Iron-willed Matt Kuchar fought back from a triple bogey and held off a strong charge from former world number one Justin Rose down the stretch to win the SMBC Singapore Open on Sunday.
Kuchar, the world number 24, regrouped after his travails at the par-five seventh and staged a grandstand finish with birdies at the 16th and 18th to card a 70 for a three stroke victory over Rose, who picked up four shots on the back nine to sign for a closing 67.
With chants of ‘Kooch’ resounding around the 18th green, the American regaled in his 18 under 266 winning total on his debut appearance at Sentosa Golf Club.
“I sure am (happy that I got the job done). It was a thrill to be out there. It turned out to be quite a competition, much more of a competition than I was thinking it was going to be,” said Kuchar, a nine-time winner on the PGA Tour who played two tournaments in Hawaii at the start of 2020.
“I was playing so well this week and so (wanting) to finish this thing off, to make the turn and play a great back nine. And I closed it out with some strong holes, a birdie on 16 and a birdie on 18 – it was a real thrill.”
Defending champion Jazz Janewattananond of Thailand, who was bidding to emulate Adam Scott of Australia by retaining the SMBC Singapore Open crown, caught up with Kuchar at the halfway mark but could not sustain his challenge on the back nine and his closing even-par 71 saw him finish third, four back of the winner.
With Kuchar, Rose and Jazz all exempt for The Open in July, the four spots for the world’s oldest Major at Royal St George’s went to teen sensation Joohyung Kim of Korea, Canada’s Richard T. Lee, Poom Saksansin of Thailand and Japan’s Ryosuke Kinoshita.
Kim, 17, shot 71 for fourth place, Lee finished fifth after a 72 and Poom carded three birdies in the last four holes to jump up the leaderboard with a best-of-the-day 65. He tied with Kinoshita for sixth place, the Japanese closing with a 67.
Kuchar took a three-stroke lead into the final round after his superb 62 on Satuday and was in cruise control until a nightmarish seventh hole opened the door to his rivals.
He had an air shot when trying to extricate his ball from the roots of a tree and then lost a ball after hooking his approach into the undergrowth to the left of the green. In the end, he did well to two-putt from the fringe for an eight.
“Without a doubt (on the seventh that was the best putt I have ever holed for an eight),” said the 41 year old who has made a career out of holing important putts.
“It was a big putt. That was a big momentum getting that putt for eight. I went from a lead to tying for the lead. I knew I was still playing good golf and it was just a matter of resettling.
“As a golfer you face a lot of similarities and difficult times and it is how you persevere and I was awfully proud to regroup after that triple bogey.”
Playing partner Jazz birdied the seventh to go level with Kuchar but the American retook the lead with a birdie at the 11th and Jazz faltered with dropped shots at the 12th and 13th.
Rose reached the turn in level par after his three birdies were cancelled out by three bogeys and was four back of Kuchar and Jazz.
He put Kuchar firmly in his sights with back-to-back birdies on the 11th and 12th and then drew to within a shot by sinking a 70-foot birdie at the 14th and picking up another shot at the 16th with a 15-foot effort.
However, Kuchar – in the group behind – also birdied the 16th to move two ahead of Rose and finished in style by sinking a 25-footer for birdie on the par-five 18th.
“(Mounted a) chase on the back nine – I played some good golf and made some good putts, said Rose, the highest ranked player in the field at world number nine.
“I was just disappointed with the (way I played around the) turn, really. I did not realise Kuchar had made a mistake somewhere on the front nine and I bogeyed eight and nine and missed a short birdie putt on 10.
“That is where I lost the tournament.”
Added the 39 year old Englishman: “I got close, you know. Kuchar made a good birdie at 16 and every credit to him.
“(If i had known earlier he had triple bogeyed) my intensity might have been different, yeah. You never know. I felt my best and played my best when I had a chance to win.
“For me, it is a good first week of the year. Four rounds in the 60s, consistent golf, got into contention, felt some of those nerves, which is great. A lot to take from the week.
“Some second places hurt, some second places you feel good and this is more of a feeling good second place finish.”
Top amateur James Leow of Singapore finished off a week that underlined his promise with a somewhat disappointing 76 for tied 41st.
The SMBC Singapore Open was jointly sanctioned by the Asian Tour and the Japan Tour with total prize money of US$1 million.