PARAMUS, N.J. (AP) — Matt Kuchar stopped practicing for a playoff and walked over to the 18th green to watch with thousands of other spectators, planning to congratulate Martin Laird on the victory. A short time later, the celebration was for Kuchar.
His fortunes took quite a turn Sunday at The Barclays.
So did his golf ball.
Kuchar gave the FedEx Cup playoffs a memorable start with a 7-iron out of the rough that sent his ball toward the back of the green, where it caught enough of the slope to turn sharply to the left and roll to within 30 inches of the hole for a birdie.
“The shot came out beautifully,” he said. “I ran it up to that back right bank and saw the crowd just all of a sudden … like a wave of people standing and cheering. I knew it was getting good. That was an exciting way to cap off this tournament.”
Five shots behind to start the final round, Kuchar closed with a 5-under 66 and got into a playoff when Laird three-putted for bogey from just inside 25 feet on the final hole.
The timing could not have been better for Kuchar.
He had nine top 10s this year to earn a spot on his first Ryder Cup team, but didn’t have a trophy to show for his solid play. The victory put him atop the FedEx Cup standings, giving him a good shot at the $10 million prize. And the third victory of his career likely will move him to a career-best No. 10 in the world ranking.
Without a victory, Kuchar still would have been happy with his season.
“To win,” he said, “it’s an incredible year. There’s nothing like the feeling of winning a PGA Tour golf tournament. You feel like you’re the best player in the world for this week. It’s just an amazing feeling to think there’s 125 of the best players in the world this week, and I came out first.”
Tiger Woods continues to make progress, which in this case means he gets to keep going.
Woods, who started these playoffs at No. 112 in the standings, closed with a 4-under 67 to easily make the top 100 who advance to the second round next week at the Deutsche Bank Championship. Woods tied for 12th, his best finish since June, and moved up to No. 65.
Laird, who recovered from a shaky start, looked just as shaky at the end, especially with his putter.
He was tied with Kuchar when he had a 20-foot eagle putt on the par-5 17th, only to roll it nearly 8 feet beyond the hole. He made that birdie putt to take the lead.
“I knew I had a chance of Martin only making par on 17. I thought that was probably my best chance,” Kuchar said. “And once he hit that great shot just to the back fringe on 18, I was pretty much shutting down my practice session. I went over and just was a spectator thinking that he’s got this wrapped up.”
Instead, Laird repeated his mistake. Only this time, his comeback putt for par never had a chance. Neither did Laird in the playoff after Kuchar’s shot stopped so close to the cup. Laird hit out of the rough to about 50 feet and made par.
“Obviously, not the finish I was looking for,” said Laird, who shot a 71. “But I’m very proud of the way I played today. “I was kind of battling all day, and probably holed two or three of the biggest putts I’ve ever holed just to be where I was.”
The only consolation for Laird was being safe through next month in the playoffs. He was at No. 95, hopeful of advancing to the second round, and his runner-up finish puts him at No. 3 and virtually guarantees he’ll be among the top 30 at the Tour Championship who compete for the $10 million prize that goes with the FedEx Cup.
Kuchar, who earned $1.35 million and leads the PGA Tour money list for the first time in his career, and Laird finished at 12-under 272.
Steve Stricker closed with a 66 to tie for third with Kevin Streelman, whose parents grew up in this neighborhood and whose grandparents are buried in a cemetery next to the seventh hole. Two years ago at Ridgewood, Streelman narrowly missed a playoff. He also was on the bubble, starting at No. 102, and moved up to No. 18.
Rory Sabbatini had the low round of the day at 64 and tied for fifth.
The other big winner Sunday was Andres Romero of Argentina. He made back-to-back double bogeys to fall well outside the top 100, then made a stunning charge with four birdies over his last five holes. Romero holed a 40-foot putt on his final hole to finish at No. 100 in the standings and advance to Boston.
“After the double bogeys, I figured it was lost,” Romero said. “I knew I had to make birdies to have a chance.”
Woods thought he had a chance, despite starting the final round nine shots behind. Practicing a drill on the putting green to keep his eyes over the ball, he took that to the course and played another solid round. It wasn’t nearly enough – he finished five shots behind – but he was encouraged by his play heading into next week at the TPC Boston.
“I haven’t won all year,” Woods said. “But this is a week that I was very close. I felt that if I would have putted better for all four days, I would have been right there. Looking forward to next week.”