Singapore: 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.
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, a Golf Course Facility Member of the Asian Golf Industry Federation.
“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 American 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 Australian Adam Scott by retaining the SMBC Singapore Open crown, caught up with Kuchar at the half-way mark but could not sustain his challenge on the back nine. His closing even-par 71 saw him finish third, four behind 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 Korean teen sensation Kim Joo-hyung, Canada’s Richard T. Lee, Thai Poom Saksansin 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 Saturday 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.
The 41-year-old said it was the best putt he’d ever holed for an eight. “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. 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 11. Jazz then faltered with dropped shots at 12 and 13.
Rose reached the turn in level-par after his three birdies were cancelled out by three bogeys and was four behind Kuchar and Jazz.
Back-to-back birdies on 11 and 12 enabled him to close the gap and he drew within a shot by sinking a 70-foot birdie at the 14th and picking up another stroke at the 16th with a 15-foot effort.
However, Kuchar – in the group behind – also birdied 16 to move two ahead of Rose and finished in style by sinking a 25-footer for birdie on the par-five 18th.
The 39-year-old Englishman said: “(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. 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.
“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. This is more of a feeling good second place finish.”
Top Singapore amateur James Leow finished off a week that underlined his promise with a 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.