Matt Kuchar watches his putt on the 11th green during the third round of the Masters on Saturday. Kuchar had a big day and at one point had the lead in the Masters
AUGUSTA - For six holes Saturday, Matt Kuchar found himself atop the Masters leaderboard.
Not that he took much notice.
“I do my best not to (watch the leaderboard),” the former Georgia Tech golfer said. “I don’t mind if I do catch one. It’s hard to avoid, but I do my best to avoid. There are so many names on the leaderboard I didn’t take enough time to really glance up and see where I stood.”
On a day where Phil Mickelson shot 6-under and Peter Hanson shot 7-under, no one else really noticed either.
And Kuchar, who is spending this week with his extended family, doesn’t mind.
“I do (enjoy being under the radar). We’ve had a lot of fun,” the 33-year old father of two said. “I’ve been able to go home and hang out with the family.”
Along with his wife and children, Kuchar has his parents, his wife’s parents, his father’s parents and his sister and her children to spend time with between rounds.
“It’s really been a lot of fun. It’s such a fun family week for us,” Kuchar said. “It’s a good week to go back home and be with the family and be under the radar.”
And here he is, four strokes back of the lead in a major tournament heading to the final round. For a while, he was much closer.
On a day with plenty of low scores, Kuchar shot out to the lead early in his round, playing the front nine 3-under par to drop as low as 6-under for the tournament.
His punctuated his opening nine with a 20-foot birdie putt on No. 9 in front of a swelling Saturday crowd. When the putt dropped the crowd erupted in one of the day’s first roars with many in the assembly shouting “Kuch.” Eighteen holes later, when he sank another 20-footer for birdie the roar repeated itself. And in between, as he walked up and down the fairways of a course he first played 1998 as an amateur, many patrons shouted encouragement at the former Yellow Jacket.
“It’s a special feeling when they cheer for you,” Kuchar said. “It was a great birdie on 18, it’s fun to be a part of. It’s fun when those go your way.”
But after his opening nine, things didn’t go as well for Kuchar.
He took a bogey on the par 5 13th when his approach trickled away from the pin and he three-putted. He three-putted again on 16 when he left his first putt short and lipped out his second.
He turned his back nine around on the final two holes.
A miss-hit on his approach on 17 left him needing an up-and-down to save par. He chipped up to within 12 feet and saved par with a one-putt, a hole after his three-putt bogey.
Then he birdied 18 to finish his round 2-under par, 5-under for the tournament.
When that putt rolled in, Kuchar gave the roaring crowd a big smile.
“The more fun I have the better I play,” said Kuchar, who has never entered the final round of the Masters in the top 10, much less the top 5.
“I’d certainly rather be much more under par than I am right now,” he said. “I feel like I have a chance and it’s awful it exciting to have a chance.”
WATSON COULD BE SLEEPER PICK FOR TODAY:
AUGUSTA - Bubba Watson finished just how he wanted to.
All this week at the Masters, the former University of Georgia golfer wanted to shoot under par. And every day he’s done that.
Watson capped his Saturday round with a birdie on No. 18 to drop him to 6-under for the tournament and three strokes back of leader Peter Hanson.
“Any time you can shoot under par, like I’ve been saying, is good,” Watson said. “Somehow if I can shoot under par and it’s good enough, great. If I shoot a low number and it’s good enough, it’s great.”
Watson is playing this week while his wife Angie his home in Arizona with their new adopted son, Caleb. With the baby at home, Watson tried not to come to Augusta until Wednesday, but Angie forced him to follow his usual routine. But his biggest preparation was off the course.
“Sleep,” he said, “because I wasn’t sleeping much at home.”
With his family absent, Watson’s has a few friends, his father-in-law and mother in the area as support. But the 33-year old is trying to focus as much on consistency as winning his first major and fourth PGA Tour event.
“I’m just looking to top 20 each week and then try to top 10 each week,” Watson said. “That’s my goal, try to come out here and shoot under par, and if it’s good enough - if it’s not, then we’re going to fight next week.”
And with a new child at home, Watson has a different view of the importance of golf.
“It shows that life is not about golf,” Watson said. “Golf is what we do.
“Our new son is at home and, obviously, that is more important that making a putt.”
CINK SUNK: When Stewart Cink finished Thursday’s opening round of the Masters 1-under par, the Duluth resident felt confident about his game.
“Every good day you take confidence from,” Cink said Thursday. “I mean, I had a lot of really good shots today. There’s not a lot of guys in the field that hit better than I did today. I played real well.”
Cink has been working on changing his swing and after Thursday said the more good rounds the better for his faith in the changes.
“It’s going to take rounds like (Thursday) where I can emotionally trust it,” he said. “ It’s going to take more than just one. That’s why I keep saying it’s a work in progress.”
The work continues.
The former Georgia Tech star shot 3-over on Friday, mostly due to poor putting. But Saturday his swing left him.
“Today was one of those days where I got off early and hit a couple of shots that kind of surprised me and I haven’t figured out yet where my rescue line is,” Cink said. “I am still a little fragile emotionally. I haven’t learned to trust my (swing) yet.”
The 2009 British Open champion went out 5-over par and finished 9-over for his round and 11-over for the tournament. He took double bogeys on Nos. 7 and 13, playing his way well out of contention.
After he emerged from signing his scorecard, the 38-year old met his family at the ropes for a group hug.
“It’s good to have them around anytime, good or bad round, but they keep it kind of real,” Cink said of his family. “It feels like the end of the world sometimes to me out there because it means so much to me. You just want to bury your head in the sand. But when you get back and you can see the kids and see that things outside the ropes are healthy and well that turns a little bit of it around.”
FAMILY FIRST: While Peter Hanson made headlines with his 7-under 65 in Saturday’s third round, his thoughts kept going back to his family.
It’s what kept him grounded as he charged to the leaderboard.
“Days like this (are) great, of course,” Hanson said. “But even the days you’re not playing very well, when you come back home, you see your kids; so you kind of easier forget. It’s easier to get along with what happened on the golf course.”
Hanson’s 1-year-old son, Tim, is never far from his dad’s thoughts, which is why he marks every ball with the No.17.
“(Tim was) born on the 17th of November, and in Europe we do the 24 hour clock so he was actually born 17:17; so 17 minutes past 5 p.m.,” Hanson said. “So when he was born 1 1/2 years ago now, I asked the guys at TaylorMade to put that on the ball and they have been nice enough to do it.”
Hanson said he will use the comfort of his family to keep him calm as he awaits his afternoon tee time for today’s final round.
“We have a nice house with toys in the backyard and playground,” Hanson said. “I’ll take it pretty easy. To me the key thing is try to not watch too much of the buzz around this, because I know there will be. Just try to stay away from it and come up here (today) and do my normal routine with my putting before lunch and do my stuff and then get to the range and try to just enjoy the moment on the first tee.
NOT REALLY LOOKING LIKE A NO. 1: The world’s No. 1 golfer couldn’t have asked for a better start.
After knocking in an eagle from 80 yards out on the third hole, Luke Donald had visions of turning his tournament around.
Instead, he turned the wrong way.
Donald, whose best Masters finish is a tie for third in 2005, bogeyed No. 5 --- and then disaster struck on the back nine. The Englishman had bogeys on Nos. 10, 14, 18 and a double bogey on No. 13, a par five that is playing as the second easiest hole on the course.
“I suppose so, yeah,” Donald said when asked if he wrote off his round after the double bogey. “I have a chance to make a 4 or 3 there and get back to 2 over or 1 over, maybe pick up a couple more and get into red numbers, and I end up making a 7. That was it probably.”
Donald slipped to 7-over with his 75 on Saturday, leaving him tied for 52nd place and without a chance to win his first Major.