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Impact: Luke Donald must grin and bear it at Harbour Town. Again

By Alex Holmes

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"Disappointed, obviously, not to have won. Usually a solid 69 on a windy day with a two-shot lead is enough to get it done on Sundays. It's tough to win out here and hats off to Matt for a superb round." -- Luke Donald


For the third time in his last six trips to Harbour Town, Donald finished runner-up at the RBC Heritage, this time thanks to some impressive 72nd-hole heroics from Matt Kuchar. Sure second is nothing to sniff at, but the Englishman had to think he had a pretty good chance to win again on the PGA Tour for the first time since March 2012. Aside from his runner-ups on Hilton Head Island, he also has two T-3s in the tournament since 2010.  
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Instruction

How he hit that: Matt Kuchar's plaid-clinching bunker shot

By Matthew Rudy

PGA Tour players say they expect to make every standard bunker shot they try. But doing it on the 72nd hole with a title on the line -- and after a bad three-putt the hole before -- is a little different story. 
 
Matt Kuchar was carrying some baggage on his last hole at Hilton Head. He had a four-footer for birdie on the 17th hole that probably would have clinched the win and Harbour Town's retro-fashionable plaid winner's jacket, but he three-putted for bogey to fall back into a tie for the lead with Luke Donald. It was familiar territory -- Kuchar had Sunday opportunities at San Antonio, Houston and the Masters slip away. After a good drive into a strong headwind on 18, Kuchar left his approach shot short and in the bunker, 59 feet from the cup.

loop-kuchar-wedge-shot-18th-518.jpgHis next shot with his 62-degree sand wedge (bent to 63) erased a month of frustration. He holed it, and the shot he saved proved to be the ultimate margin of victory when Donald couldn't hole his own 40-yard pitch at 18.

"Even after the three putt, Matt was able to stay positive and execute his shots on 18," says Lukas McNair, a senior instructor at Hank Haney's Vista Ridge location outside of Dallas. "Before he got in the bunker, he told his caddie he was due to make one of these."
 
A flatter swing like Kuchar's could cause some trouble in the bunker, where you need to produce some angle take the right amount of sand. "But Matt uses a lot of knee flex which helps him create that steeper angle," says McNair, (@Lukas_McNair on Twitter). "He also played the perfect shot for the situation. When you have some green to work with and you're uphill or into the wind, you're going to get a better result if you hit a shot that rolls out more versus checking up. You could see that he took a little more sand to get some run." 

Before you run out and pick up a Kuchar-model super-lofted lob wedge, keep in mind Kuchar's weapon was ideally suited for Harbour Town's sugary sand, and he didn't need to use it for full shots into the green. "A 60-degree club with a decent amount of bounce, like 8 degrees, is going to be a better club for most players," McNair says. "You want something flexible enough to play longer shots from the fairway."

Photo: Getty Images

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News & Tours

Matt Kuchar: 'We've got to go get a trophy'

By John Strege

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Matt Kuchar's ride in recent years has been a Brinks truck that he has driven from tournament to tournament, collecting stacks of money that made his banker happy, but often left him unfulfilled.

He had been too polite, we now know, contenting himself with knocking on the door week in and week out and expecting someone to open it and hand him a trophy.

On Sunday, he opted for a different approach. This time, Kuchar kicked in the door and stole the RBC Heritage trophy with a final round that was exceeded in its brilliance only by the final shot.

On a better day for sailing than golf, Kuchar rode the wind to victory at Harbour Town with a seven-under-par 64 that ended when he holed a 57-foot bunker shot for birdie and a one-shot lead that became a one-stroke victory over Luke Donald.

“What an amazing roar,” he said of the reaction from the crowd at the 18th green. “That was a full-on Augusta National roar. It’s something I’ll never forget.”

What he can now forget -- or at least stop dwelling on -- is a series of Sunday failures in recent weeks, including a second shot into the water on the last hole of the Shell Houston Open that ultimately cost him the victory. The week before, he threatened to win the Valero Texas Open, but closed with a 75, and the week after he had an opportunity to win the Masters, but shot 74 on Sunday.

He finished tied for fourth, second and tied for fifth in those events, fortifying the bottom line with which his banker is concerned, but not the bottom line in professional golf -- winning tournaments.

Kuchar seemed on the verge of extending the trend by three-putting from 12 feet at the 17th hole, his only bogey of the day. Then from the fairway at 18, a hazard looming left of the green inviting him to bail out right to avoid a Houston Open rerun, he hit a decent shot into the greenside bunker. “I looked at my caddie, Lance [Bennett], and said, ‘it’s not that bad of a place. I can do something with it,' " he said.

It was an otherwise routine bunker shot, with the exception of an imposing obstacle: Kuchar ranked 124th on the PGA Tour in sand saves, converting less than 47 percent. When he holed it, his thrust a fist into the air. “I wish it wasn’t that great a finish, but I made it that way after 17,” he said.

Kuchar then repaired to the clubhouse to see whether Donald could tie him. When Donald’s own birdie attempt from well right of the green at 18 slid past the hole, Kuchar was, finally, a winner again, this his seventh career victory for which he collected another $1.044 million, running his career earnings to $29.5 million.

But the money was incidental. “We've got to go get a trophy,” a beaming Kuchar said to his young sons in the clubhouse.

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News & Tours

7 pictures that explain the final round of the 2014 RBC Heritage

By Luke Kerr-Dineen

HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. -- For a fourth-straight week, it was almost another tournament win that wasn't for Matt Kuchar. With Luke Donald charging and Kuchar's lead -- which at one point on Sunday had stretched to three shots -- down to just one, Kuchar knocked his approach shot close on 17 but three putted, dropping him into a tie with Luke Donald. Eye on Golf, who took a vine of the putt(s), said it best: Welp!

But this week was different. After leaving his second shot into the 18th hole short, Matt Kuchar knocked his bunker shot into the hole for a Sunday 64, and as a result converted his fourth-consecutive back nine Sunday lead into a victory. "I told my caddie before that last shot, 'I'm about due to make one of these,'" Kuchar said.

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Given Kuchar's recent form, it's hard to begrudge him winning the RBC Heritage, but it was also tough to see Luke Donald lose. In his best finish since starting work with Jason Dufner's swing coach, Chuck Cook, Donald made some mistakes but consistently fought back with birdies. He finished one shot back of Kuchar with a three-under 69 on the day, which included birdie putts that burned the edge on two of his last three holes. He may not have won this week, but his swing changes are clearly starting to click into place.

"With Chuck's method I use the bigger muscles a little bit more," Donald said. "The last couple of days it's kind of shown on a course with tiny greens."

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Did we mention it was Easter Sunday? Happy Easter! The whole tournament had a very Easter Bunny feel on Sunday and everyone seemed generally happy about it. Just look at the tournament's tee markers.

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But the tee markers weren't the only things to boast a sense of occasion. Jonathan Byrd, who dressed like Clemson University's mascot on Saturday, dressed like an Easter Bunny gone golfing on Sunday. Those pants!

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Those at the RBC Heritage on Sunday -- or all week, for that matter -- couldn't miss the biggest yacht in the harbor even if they tried. "Top Five," which Patrick Reed aptly almost hit a day earlier, was the talk of the tournament. "I bet that guy throws some sick parties on that thing," one spectator said.

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Yes, of course we're mentioning Matt Fitzpatrick for a third-straight day. A day after going bogey-free, the U.S. Amateur champion made 18 consecutive pars to finish the tournament two under and record his first top 25 on the PGA Tour. So, when's this kid turning pro? "I'm not going to let anyone pressure me," he said.

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My Usual Game

Easter Sunday golf handicap bonus

By David Owen

April 20 was an important day for people in the egg and pastel-dye industries. To celebrate, the Sunday Morning Group gave one extra handicap stroke to every player who teed off with an appropriately decorated golf ball. Last-minute scrawls with a Sharpie didn't count; to qualify, a ball had to be something you wouldn't be ashamed to show the Easter Bunny.

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I did my decorating the night before, with something called Angelus Acrylic Leather Paint. It isn't formulated for golf balls, probably, but it was the only thing I could find in the basement that was in the right colors. The two balls I painted were still tacky in the morning, twelve hours later, and the bunny stickers were coming up at the edges. I think the bunnies cost me some yardage on my opening drive -- on our sixth hole, a par 5 -- but the wet paint helped me on my third shot, from a greenside bunker, because sand got embedded in the paint and kept the ball from rolling off the green. 

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Five guys, out of nine, showed up with decorated balls. Mike A. played with his ball the whole round. Fritz lost his in the woods on the fifth. Ben slept through the golf but came for lunch (without a ball). He said that the college he went to, Hampshire, holds an annual Easter Keg Hunt, and when I got home I found a picture online:

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We may have to try that next year.

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News & Tours

Patrick Reed hit his ball into a hazard next to a boat named "top five"

By Luke Kerr-Dineen

HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. -- This will probably prove to be the most ironic thing to happen all season.

It all started back in March when, after collecting his third victory in seven months, Patrick Reed said that he was "one of the top five players in the world."

Related: Fact Check: Is Patrick Reed really a top five player in the world?

Fast forward to Saturday at the RBC Heritage. Reed, one-under for the day and about to hit his second shot into the difficult par-4 18th, pulled his shot into the hazard just left of the green. He waded down into the marsh and tried to take a swing at it, but the club twisted in his hands and the ball took off almost 90 degrees left.

Where did his ball finish? Next to a boat, the biggest in the harbor, named "top five." All that led to a double bogey, helping Reed to a one-over 72 on the day.

Here's the boat:

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And here's a video of the whole incident:


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Gear & Equipment

Tip stability is key with Mitsubishi Rayon's new Bassara P-Series shafts

By Mike Stachura

Blink your eyes. That takes about three-tenths of a second. You know what else takes three-tenths of a second? Your downswing.

That short span of time places particular demands on a graphite shaft because when the shaft bends, it deforms. But shaft engineers believe it needs to rapidly return to its shape before impact to produce the greatest consistency in distance and direction. That’s where tip stability in a shaft can be important, and it’s what Mitsubishi Rayon is trying to do with its latest lightweight shaft, the Bassara P-Series (the “P” is for the mythical phoenix).

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Designed for distance, the P-Series, which ranges from 39 to 59 grams, uses an elastic titanium-nickel wire through the tip section. The alloy is designed to help the shaft rapidly revert to its original cross-section. Available through authorized retailers, the suggested retail price is $400.

Follow @MikeStachura

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My Usual Game

Last year's golf water: Is it safe to drink?

By David Owen

Last summer, I played in a tournament called the Danbury Amateur, along with several other guys from my club. We got two rounds at Richter Park, a semi-free lunch each day, and a really nice insulated water bottle, which I used for the rest of the golf season. 

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I forgot about the water bottle during the winter, though, and for several months it rolled around in the trunk of my car, along with a golf-ball box containing six or seven loose golf balls. The water bottle and the ball box made quite a racket when I cornered hard, etc., but as soon as I had parked my car in my garage they stopped rolling around and I forgot about them.

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This spring, I put my golf clubs back in the trunk, and brought the water bottle inside my house, to refill it. When I opened it, I noticed that there was a little bit of water still in it, from last year, and suddenly I wondered whether anything bad would happen to me if I drank the leftover golf water instead of pouring it out.


Was this a dumb idea? I don't know. Check back in a few days and see if I'm still here.
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News & Tours

7 pictures that summarize round three at the RBC Heritage

By Luke Kerr-Dineen

HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. -- After biblical rain on Friday, the heavens held-over on Saturday at the RBC Heritage. Play started at 8 a.m., and the decent weather allowed the 65 players left on the course to finish their second rounds and all of the players to finish their third rounds. "They've done well considering the conditions," Charl Schwartzel said. "The golf course has held up really well...and I'm looking forward to a good Sunday."

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On the golf course, Luke Donald and his majestic follow-through jumped into the 54-hole lead on moving day. An eagle on the par-5 second helped Donald to a five-under 66 on Saturday, leaving him two-shots clear of nearest-chaser John Huh. "The last eight months have been a little bit of a transition period for me," Donald said, "but I'm starting to feel really comfortable with my game."

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The Thompson family continued their crusade through the golf world on Saturday. Lexi's brother Nicholas played his way into T-3 after a three-under 68, joining a crowded group three shots back. "It's going to be an exciting day tomorrow," Thompson said. "As long as we don't have to play 18, 18 times."

Here the two Thompson's are at the 2008 U.S. Women's Open plotting their impending takeover.

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In non-professional news, Matt Fitzpatrick continued being a boss at Harbour Town. The amateur shot a bogey-free 69 on Saturday, leaving him just six shots off the lead. He may not be hitting as many greens as some of those in the field, but when you're gaining more than one and a half strokes on the field putting like he is this week, it doesn't really matter.


We went hunting at the RBC Heritage for any putting tips from the pros. What did we find? Well, before their round, none of the pros we watched spent any significant time hitting long putts. It was all about drilling home the short ones. Take note, amateurs everywhere.

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Tim Herron showed John Daly who was boss on Friday. While Daly missed the cut, Herron employed a modified claw putting grip while practicing before his round that featured a cigarette between his index and middle finger. He's even after 54-holes, leaving him T-34.

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Can you tell where Jonathan Byrd went to school? The Clemson grad totally played to the South Carolina crowd on Saturday, dressing basically like the school's mascot en-route to a third-round 73, leaving him in T-62 after three days.

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Instruction

Here's how six PGA Tour pros practice putting before they go play

By Luke Kerr-Dineen

HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. -- An hour spent on the practice putting green watching PGA Tour pros before they go play can teach you a lot.

First, think what many amateurs do: most usually throw down a few balls, quickly eye-up that hole 30 feet away and pull the trigger. They do that a couple more times, and toss in maybe a few sneaky short putts before heading to the first tee.

Related: Adam Scott's warm-up routine before beginning his Masters defense

"Ask any of the guys out here, they all have specific routines they do before they go play," Graeme McDowell said earlier in the week, a thought echoed by Zach Johnson: "I've got certain things that I plan to do every time I go play, like most of these guys."

I spent an hour before the third round of the RBC Heritage watching what a selection of PGA Tour pros do before they go play. Almost everything varied from one pro to another, but all seemed to share one common trait: None of the pros I saw spent any significant time hitting long putts. Practically all their time was spent drilling short putts from inside 10 feet.

Related: LPGA Players' Pre-Round Routines

Here are some of the drills preferred by the pros:

Jordan Spieth

With three golf balls, Spieth spent about 10 minutes hitting putts with just his right hand. After that, he hit three golf balls from eight feet, gradually working his way around the hole and moving farther away until he got to 12 feet.

Patrick Reed

Reed spend most of his time drilling seven foot putts -- also in sets of three -- lining up over a mirror and string to make sure everything moved on line.

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Pat Perez

Perez had his caddie video his putting stroke from ground-level by the hole as he hit three sets of nine foot putts from different angles (all the same distance).

Billy Horschel

Horschel spent 20 minutes hitting nine foot putts with two tees resting a few feet away from the ball's starting position. The tees were spread about a golf ball's width apart. The goal was to start the putt on line so it would travel through the tees and into the hole.

Jonathan Byrd

Byrd was one of the more technical players on the green. Set up about 12 feet away from the hole, Byrd hit putts using a system that forced his putter to travel on the same line -- straight back and through -- throughout the stroke.

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Brandt Snedeker

Snedeker's favorite drill seemed to be when he set four balls at different spots around the hole, three, six and nine feet away. His goal was to make all 12 putts in a row, working his way from shortest to longest. If he missed one, he would start again from three feet.

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