AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Matt Kuchar has a chance to break at least one Tiger Woods record, and the Dell Technologies Match Play will be his last chance.
This is the last edition of the Match Play. And for starters, Kuchar feels lucky to be part of Austin Country Club’s 64-man field.
At stake: He needs to win three games to set the record for most games won in a tournament dating back to 1999. Kuchar is guaranteed three games, starting Wednesday, in the group format.
Kuchar has reached the Final Four four times, winning the championship in 2013, losing to Kevin Kisner in 2019 and losing in the semifinals twice. His career mark is 34-11-4. Woods, the only three-time winner of Match Play, has a score of 36-12.
“This is an event that I love, an event that has been really good for me,” Kuchar said on Tuesday as he dove in due to a steady drizzle. “It’s something I was looking for and I had to ask around, ‘Hey, what do I look like getting into this thing?’ I am very excited that it worked out.”
Match play was the most unique of the World Golf Championships when the series began in 1999, and it was the last to go.
The WGC in Firestone moved to Memphis, Tennessee in 2019 and was converted to a FedEx Cup playoff event two years later.
The WGC, which initially alternated between the US and Europe, moved to Doral (and included a regular PGA Tour event), then moved to Mexico City when a sponsor could not be found for the golf course owned by Donald Trump, and was then shut down by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The HSBC Champions in Shanghai have not been played since 2019 due to the pandemic and the China Golf Association has not allowed it to resume. PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan doesn’t expect that event to continue with the transition to so many elevated events in the new schedule.
And now the Dell Match Play has ended after this year, a blow to fans who enjoy the most unpredictable nature of 18-hole matches and to Austin, who will miss out on the highest level of golf.
It ends with a 64-man field having to drop to No. 77 in the world rankings to fill the field, and another sign of these divisive times in golf.
That means 11 players wouldn’t be in Austin if it weren’t for LIV Golf, including Kuchar.
“I think I’m thankful to LIV for a lot of things,” Kuchar said with a laugh, referring to the $20 million purse this week that was part of the PGA Tour’s response to LIV’s Saudi-funded threat.
Kuchar can break Woods’ record by winning his three games in group play, but that’s never easy, regardless of the opponents. Kuchar is the No. 59 seed and will face Viktor Hovland, Chris Kirk and Si Woo Kim, all of whom have won tournaments in the past four months.
Kuchar isn’t sure why he thrives so much in match play, though there’s a saying about this format that doesn’t get much attention.
“Good form is the most important thing for success,” he said.
Scottie Scheffler has a bit of both. The number 1 player in the world has already racked up two wins this year, most recently two weeks ago at The Players Championship. Scheffler made his Match Play debut in 2021 by reaching the championship game and losing to Billy Horschel before winning the Match Play against Kisner last year.
Woods is the only player to win Match Play in consecutive years.
“Match play is a little bit different,” said Scheffler. “But I think the guys who play the best golf are doing what they have to do to win the game and the tournament and I think it’s a good format. It’s a bit funky, but a change of pace.”
Scheffler won as the No. 5 seed last year, and only three top seeds in the past 23 years have won the Match Play – Rory McIlroy in 2015, Dustin Johnson in 2017 and Woods three times (2003, 2004 and 2008). Two players in his group, Tom Kim and Davis Riley, are playing for the first time.
Jon Rahm reached the championship game in 2017 on his debut. He gets a stomach virus bad enough to knock him out of The Players Championship after one round.
The Spaniard would like to see the format return to the PGA Tour schedule at some point.
“It’s actually the only time in the year, other than maybe the Ryder Cup, that you actually play against the person in front of you, which is much more relatable to any sport we play in the world,” Rahm said.
“It’s fun. It’s a lot more aggressive. You see more birdies. You see a lot happening.”
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