Kevin Kisner improved one position from last year’s WGC Dell Technologies Match Play, but it was a big one.
Kisner defeated Matt Kuchar 3&2 in an all-American final on Sunday at Austin Country Club, erasing memories of the 7&6 thrashing he took from Bubba Watson in 2018’s final match.
“It was gruelling, definitely the winds were tough, the temperature today and overall just a long week,” Said Kisner to NBC Sports from the 16th green after the win. “But I prevailed and I’m a world golf champion.”
Sunday began with wind chills near zero Celsius as Kisner, Kuchar, Francesco Molinari and Lucas Bjerregaard bundled up and took to the course for the morning semifinal matches. Kisner defeated Molinari one-up, and Kuchar took down Tiger-slayer Bjerregaard also one-up. Kisner was asked if the weather made it feel more like a British Open. The Southerner agreed, but added, “Except the food’s better here.”
The weather warmed for the Kisner-Kuchar afternoon final in which Kisner never trailed. He made four birdies and an eagle before winning the match with a 20-foot birdie putt on the 16th hole to go three-up.
Kisner, from Aiken, S.C., has built a reputation as a tough-as-nails competitor with a deadly putter, a perfect combination for match play golf. As he racked up wins this week, his omission from the 2018 U.S. Ryder Cup team looked more and more like a glaring mistake. European stalwart Lee Westwood took to Twitter to twist the knife after the American’s 6&5 round robin win over HaoTong Li.
“Kevin Kisner appears to be a very good match play player. I’ll tell you a course that would really have suited him. Le Golf National,” Westwood wrote.
Kisner is good friend’s with American captain Jim Furyk and said the truth was he was playing poorly when time came for the captain to make his picks before heading to Paris.
“Is he going to leave Phil (Mickelson) at home and take Kiz? Nobody’s going to do that.” Kisner said, before deadpanning, “Even though in hindsight, it’s 20/20, everybody should have taken Kiz.”
Molinari defeated Bjerregaard 4&2 in the third-place match.
GMAC BACK ON TOP
After several self described tough, grinding years for Graeme McDowell and those close to him, the Northern Irishman won the PGA Tour’s opposite-field Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship on Sunday. The 39-year-old shot a three-under 69 to finish at 18-under for the week, edging Canada’s Mackenzie Hughes and American Chris Stroud by one stroke.
“It’s taken a few bad Sunday beats,” he said after his round. “A few Sundays … where I walked away very disappointed and very down on myself to be able to learn, and to feed back into what I’m doing, to be able to get the win here.”
You know it’s your time when the shot you practised the day before, gets placed in front of you with the tournament on the line. That was McDowell’s fate when he arrived at the par-3 17th hole. Stroud had a one shot lead but pushed his iron shot 30 feet right of the green, opening the door for McDowell.
“It’s a shot I’ve been working on the last few days because it’s the shot that was plaguing me a bit early in the week,” McDowell said. “I had the lefts going with that shot and I hit 30 balls on the range after my round last night just to try to groove that shot back in.”
McDowell hit a six-iron to four feet to make birdie against Stroud’s bogey, turning the tables and taking a one-shot lead to the 72nd hole. On the 18th, Stroud got himself in trouble off the tee and went on to make bogey, allowing McDowell to play it safe and also make a bogey for the win.
Stroud’s slip at the last hole elevated Hughes to a tie for second place, his best finish of the season. Hughes made seven birdies against just one bogey to shoot a six-under par 66 on Sunday.
“It definitely will give me a boost,” Mackenzie told Postmedia after his round. “Hit lots of great shots under pressure.”
Like the final pair, Hughes also bogeyed the 18th after pulling his drive left, much like Stroud.
“Just needed to hit a couple better shots there in order to make a four,” he said.
McDowell had won twice since the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, but just months from turning 40 and three-and-a-half years since his last win, the second act of his golf career looked like it might end rather unceremoniously.
“It’s relief right now but this will not only be a satisfying win but it will be a springboard win as well,” McDowell said. “I’ve never been to Atlanta, to the Tour championship, the FedEx playoffs. That’s the goal now, that has to be the goal. Obviously, we have the Open Championship at Portrush which is on my radar.”
McDowell has yet to qualify for the British Open, which is being played at Royal Portrush, in his hometown. This week’s win will allow him to set his schedule heading into the summer to play in as many events as possible to qualify for the first major championship held in Northern Ireland in 68 years.
HUGHES RUNNING HOT
Canadian Mackenzie Hughes finished just one shot off the lead at Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship on Sunday. The tie for second comes one week after a tie for 13th at the Valspar Championship.
The 28-year-old from Dundas, Ont., told Postmedia from the Dominican Republic after his round that confidence has made the difference in his game.
“It’s been my mindset the last couple weeks,” he said. “Just telling myself more and more that I belong here and that I’m good enough to win. Carrying that onto the course has freed me up out there.”
Hughes had back-to-back 66s on the weekend to finish at 17-under par, a shot behind winner McDowell. Hughes’ only bogey on Sunday came at the 18th hole, which plays over the water and incredibly tough into the wind. Players were forced to take a more conservative line from the tee and both Hughes and co-runner-up Chris Stroud pulled it left and had to play fairway woods into the green for their approach shot at the par four.
“Very hard to pick a line with the wind in and off the right,” Hughes said. “Pulled my tee shot and had over 260 yards to the flag.”
The bogey at the last didn’t necessarily cost Hughes a chance at a playoff despite losing by one. McDowell, who was in the final group, played a conservative chip knowing that a bogey likely would win, and might have played more aggressively had he needed a par.
Hughes will take plenty of momentum into next week’s Valero Texas Open.
“It was very satisfying to play that way when I had a chance to win,” he said.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019