- Last Updated: 5:49 AM, May 14, 2012
- Posted: 12:17 AM, May 14, 2012
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — Go ahead and try to wipe the smile off Matt Kuchar’s face. If you’re able to do it, you’ll be the first.
Kuchar, who would smile his way through a proctology appointment or Lincoln Tunnel rush-hour traffic, looked as carefree as a golden retriever on a free run in the park en route to winning the Players Championship yesterday.
The cauldron of final-round pressure that comes with trying to survive the diabolical TPC at Sawgrass could not alter Kuchar’s bubbly expression.
His final-round pairing with the maddeningly deliberate waggle king Kevin Na, whose playing partners in the previous three rounds this week were a combined 4-over par, could not curb Kuchar’s enthusiasm.
Not even a bogey on the first hole would deter him as he proceeded to play his next 17 holes in 3-under par to seize his fourth career victory with a final-round 70. The win, which banked him $1.7 million, moved him to No. 5 in the world rankings.
“I can’t help but stop and gaze at all the photos going through champions tunnel and to think I’m going to be a part of that with Jack Nicklaus and Lee Trevino and Raymond Floyd and Phil Mickelson and David Duval and Tiger Woods ... it’s the best of the best,’’ Kuchar said. “To feel like I’m going to see my picture up there next year is pretty cool.’’
If Kuchar, who became the first American to win the Players Championship since Mickelson in 2007, were feeling any pressure during the frantic final two hours with his lead tenuous at times and several players making runs, you’d never know it by his expression.
How relaxed was he this week?
Kuchar played doubles tennis with his wife and other family members the last two mornings before his afternoon tee times.
At various times on the back nine yesterday, the likes of Rickie Fowler, Zach Johnson, Martin Laird, Ben Curtis and Luke Donald made game runs at Kuchar. Fowler, Johnson, Laird and Curtis all finished at 11-under par, two shots short of Kuchar’s 13-under-par winning score.
As Kuchar, who trailed Na by three shots after the second hole, finished out the 18th hole with a two-putt par from 60 feet to secure the biggest win of his career, his parents, wife and kids and several fellow PGA Tour pros waited behind the green to celebrate with him.
“He’s always smiling,’’ Johnson said. “That’s the beauty of Matt. I don’t think he ever takes himself too seriously. He just kind of goes about his way and has fun with it. That’s all I’ve ever witnessed from him.
“I will say, however, that he is as gritty and fierce a competitor as I’ve ever been associated with. His game models consistency. It models tenacity. And when it comes to finishing the deal ... we’ve witnessed that this week.’’
Lance Bennett, Kuchar’s caddie, called his man “very even-keel,’’ adding, “I tell him all the time his strongest attribute is how patient and how mentally strong he is. His mind was really mentally prepared to deal with everything today. He was just steady all week. In tournaments like this, steady wins. He’s the most consistent player out here.’’
Since 2008, Kuchar has 40 top-10s on the PGA Tour. Since the start of the 2010 season, he has finished in the Top 10 in more than 40 percent of his starts (25-of-60).
One of Kuchar’s biggest moments yesterday came when he buried a 15-foot birdie putt on the 16th hole to take a three-shot lead at 14-under, moments after Fowler birdied the par-3 17th to send the huge crowd into a frenzy.
“Absolutely I saw the putt, I watched the thing disappear and [Fowler ] gave a big fist pump,’’ Kuchar said. “I was pretty excited to stick it right back to Rickie.’’
While Kuchar was on 17, Fowler had a chance to cut the lead to one shot, but he missed a 7-foot birdie putt. That left Kuchar with a two-shot edge as he walked to the 18th.
With a smile on his face.Follow @NYPostsports