124th U.S. Open

Pinehurst No. 2

PGA Tour

Eagle, snowman and 9 birdies: Matt Kuchar had wildest round we'll ever see

November 04, 2023

Matt Kuchar hits a shot on the 12th hole on Saturday.


After his second straight round of 65 in the Wide World Technology Open on Friday, an upbeat Matt Kuchar recalled that when he left his family at home to head for this week’s tournament in Mexico, he had a good feeling about the week. “Never know,” he said. “I've certainly said that before and it's not gone quite as planned. Golf is a fickle creature.”

Fickle, exhilarating, confounding and utterly maddening. Kuchar would add those adjectives after what he experienced in the third round on Saturday at El Cardonal Diamante in Los Cabos.

The exhilarating: Kuchar opened the round with an eagle and three more birdies against a bogey, then made three more birdies to shoot seven-under 29 on his front side. And when the Georgian made another three straight birdies from 12 through 14, he reached 24 under overall and had a six-shot lead.

The coronation walk to a 10th career victory seemed on.

The confounding: On the tee at the par-4 15, just as Golf Channel's announcers were starting to talk about three more birdies leading to a 59, Kuchar hooked his tee shot into the bushes. He played a provisional, finding the fairway, and and after a long wait yanked his fourth shot left of the green and into a sandy collection area.

Delicate shots faced one of the best short-game players in the game, and Kuchar clipped his ball too softly on his fifth shot and it rolled back down the slope in front of the green. His next chip did pretty much the same thing, and it wasn’t until his seventh shot that Kuchar cozied his ball up to the hole for a tap-in quadruple-bogey 8.

"The drive was terrible, so that was two shots right there," Kuchar later told reporters. "That's a fairway that's 70 yards wide. I mean, I hit that one in my sleep. ... Going left of that green, I'm sure there was ... a third of the field was probably left of that green. It's hard not to be left of that green, and when you're down there, there aren't many good options."

The maddening: If anybody could be expected to come back from such a disaster, Kuchar figured to be that guy, as a usually easygoing 45-year-old veteran with nine PGA Tour wins. But at the par-3 16th, Kuchar compounded his errors with another poor tee shot that he pulled left of the green, with his ball settling in heavy rough.

In a shot that looked all too similar to the previous hole, Kuchar’s pitch didn’t stay on the green and it rolled back to him and into a playable part of the penalty area. From there, Kuchar punched to about 10 feet past the hole, and, showing enormous grit, he made the putt to save a bogey.

Still, and, incredibly, Kuchar fell into a first-place tie with playing partner Camilo Villegas, who was seven shots back of Kuchar on the tee at 15. With Kuchar’s foibles and the Colombian’s own birdies at 15 and 16, they were knotted at 19 under.

Golf is fickle? Consider this. Kuchar needed only 29 strokes on his front nine. He required 12 over two holes on the back.

At the round's end, Villegas birdied the par-5 18th to shoot 69, and Kuchar scored a par after driving into a fairway bunker for a 67. The two enter the final round tied at 19 under, one shot up on Erik van Rooyen (65) and two ahead of Mackenzie Hughes (63), Will Gordon (67) and Justin Suh (69).

Kuchar gracously spoke to Golf Channel immedaitely after the round and said: "Listen, this course has some trickiness to it. The 15th hole is one that we all have circled—this could be a big number. And for me it was today.

"But, listen, it’s golf and every hole has the same value, the same importance to it. You could look at it multiple different ways. I shot five under; I'm playing really good golf; I really like the state of my game.

"I'm pretty good at letting that stuff roll off my back, and I'm going to do my best to let that one roll off my back and play some good golf tomorrow."

The final round is a big day for the 40-something leaders. With a win, Kuchar would move up 15 places in the FedEx Fall standings to No. 51. It would give himi two more events to get inside the top 50 and qualify next year for two limited-field events, the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am and Genesis Invitational.

Villegas, meantime, could notch his first victory since 2014 and emerge from limited Past Champion status this year to two-year fulltime status starting in '24.

"Matt was kind of running away, but golf is weird and he came back to us," Villegas said. "We'll be back tomorrow, play good, keep staying aggressive. There's a lot of low scores on this golf course, see what happens."