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MASTERS NOTEBOOK: Kuchar walks off with a smile

Hunter Mahan, left, watches Matt Kuchar's tee shot on the 15th hole during the fourth round of the Masters golf tournament on Sunday.

Hunter Mahan, left, watches Matt Kuchar's tee shot on the 15th hole during the fourth round of the Masters golf tournament on Sunday.

AUGUSTA — For a two hole stretch on the front nine, Augusta National played foil to Matt Kuchar.

He slid a makeable birdie putt past the whole on the par 5 8th and then three-putted from about seven feet for a double-bogey on No. 9.

In two holes he lost two strokes and it felt like three.

Add in the pressure of chasing his first major in a state where he went to college on a course he first played as an amateur and Kuchar easily could have withered.

Instead, the 33-year-old rallied.

He played the next six holes 4-under par, including making his only eagle of the week on the par 5 15th, putting his approach shot with a 3-wood to about two feet.

“I’ve always felt like I was never going to give up,” the former Georgia Tech golfer said. “I have played a lot of rounds of golf where things weren’t going well and I stuck with it. There always seems to be a situation in a time like this when things weren’t going my way there for a while and I wanted to stick with it. It was great to see those efforts pay off.”

A bad break on his tee shot on the par 3 16th led to a bogey and kept Kuchar two-strokes from the top. He finished with two pars and walked off 18 with a smile.

“This is my first real experience with being in the hunt on the back nine of Augusta,” said Kuchar, whose best finish before this year’s top-3 was tied for 21st in his first Masters as an amateur. “It’s awesome. I don’t know that there’s much else like it. It was truly just a great afternoon. It was a lot of fun and great to have a chance.”

ACES WILD: With a 6-iron in his hand, Bo Van Pelt stood on the 16th green and watched as his ball hit a few paces past the hole and then trickled back into the hole.

The shot came two-hours before Adam Scott aced the same hole --- but Van Pelt had wished it came a lot sooner than that.

“I was just one year late,” said Van Pelt, who was one shot off the lead last year before missing the 16th green to the right and settling for bogey, starting his fall down the leaderboard.

That shot was in his mind Sunday as he stared down the front left pin position tucked behind a bunker.

“I reminded myself to be more aggressive on my line,” Van Pelt said. “That’s kind of what I learned last year, instead of aiming for the slope, the wind was coming off the left, and I told myself to make sure I aimed it at the flag because I knew I wasn’t going to miss it left, so I just kind of took what I learned last year and it ended up being a perfect spot.”

The ace was part of an outstanding final round for Van Pelt, who also eagled No. No. 13 and shot a 30 on the back nine to come in with a 64 and the best round of the tournament.

Scott’s hole-in-one, which was the 15th in Masters history at No. 16, hit the front edge of the green just above the bunker and rolled straight into the cup.

It moved him to 3-under and into the Top 10, and a birdie on No. 17 put him in a tie for seventh as the leaders were still getting started on the front nine.

“It was loud. It was massive down there. It was like last year,” said Scott, who tied for second last year behind Charl Schwartzel. “I mean, I hit a shot that was feeding down last year and just missed. I would have liked to switch them.

He finished tied for eighth alongside Justin Rose and Padraig Harrington, achieving his goal of slipping into the Top 10.

“I was playing well, but it’s just - it’s such a hard golf course to - it’s not easy just to put it all together because one hole is so crucial,” Scott said. “Look, I’m really happy to leave having my best round ever at Augusta, but a little disappointed that I couldn’t put it together earlier in the week.”

CINK BOUNCES BACK: A day after turning in his highest score ever at the Masters, Stewart Cink went the other way and took a step in the right direction.

Cink struggled with his new swing during Saturday’s round, finishing with a 9-over 81, with a pair of double bogeys, and forcing him into Sunday’s first group with amateur Kelly Kraft. But the 38-year-old returned for his first Masters Sunday since he finished in the top 3 in 2008 with a renewed focus.

“Today was just a little bit more commitment,” Cink said. “I was really determined today to at least come out and salvage a little bit of a mindset, to show myself that I could get it around here and play a committed round of golf.”

Cink shot 3-under 69, tying his low round at the Masters, to finish with an 8-over weekend. He continued to hit his driver well and ran in more putts Sunday than any other day, including a 50-footer for birdie on No. 12.

“I think my longest (made) putt up until today was 10 feet,” Cink said.

The improved putting helped his score, but Cink’s concern Sunday was less score and more a springboard to next week at Harbor Town and beyond.

“Today was a good day to go out there and practice on some things that I’ve been working on hard, with my short game especially,” Cink said. “With really not much motivation to go out and shoot a low score because even if I shot 65 today I wasn’t going to move up a whole lot, I am so far back. That was my hope to go out there and take good things from that round and somewhat erase yesterday but really kind of salvage a little bit of confidence.”