News & Opinion

Match Play reveals a few warts on Tour

What did we learn last week in Austin, Texas? A number of things:

1. Kevin Kisner and Francesco Molinari are the real deals.

2. Matt Kuchar has a split personality.

3. Tiger Woods is not quite ready for prime time. Woods’ loss to Lucas Bjerregaard was not a fluke, nor was it the biggest upset in golf since Jack Fleck beat Ben Hogan.

4. The golf fans of Austin would benefit from some etiquette lessons.

Matt Kuchar
It didn’t involve a tip, but Matt Kuchar nonetheless finds himself in the middle of another controversy on the PGA Tour.

Kisner returned to the final of the WGC Dell Technologies Match Play for the second consecutive time. After a 7-and-6 drubbing by Bubba Watson in the 2018 final, Kisner wanted some payback. He got it Sunday afternoon with a 3-and-2 victory against Kuchar at Austin Country Club (results).

There is no truth that Sergio Garcia was on the sidelines cheering for Kisner, but let’s just say the Spaniard was hoping for the right outcome.

For Molinari, his match-play record is better than anyone’s in professional golf. Dating to last year’s Ryder Cup at Le Golf National near Paris, Molinari is 11-1 in match play, with the lone loss coming to Kisner in the semifinals earlier Sunday. Add in last year’s British Open victory and the recent Arnold Palmer Invitational title and Molinari is arguably the best European going into the Masters.

Of course, Rory McIlroy is the 8-1 favorite with the oddsmakers, but Molinari has to be No. 1 if you take the emotion out of the decision.

Kuchar has become the riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma. A seemingly happy-go-lucky player has been exposed as a man with questionable scruples. It started in November in Mexico when Kuchar, after winning for the first time in 4½ years, essentially stiffed his caddie, a club looper who was on the bag because Kuchar’s regular caddie didn’t make the trip.

I’m defining “essentially stiffed” as paying him all of $5,000 for his services in a $1.296 million victory, despite Kuchar having said that the caddie, David Ortiz, clearly contributed to the victory (“Kuchar misses gimme on doing right thing,” Feb. 15).

It took months of extremely poor public relations by Kuchar and his manager, Mark Steinberg, before the incident was resolved with a reported additional $45,000 payment to Ortiz (“Kuchar feels heat, pledges caddie bonus,” Feb. 18).

At that point, observers might have given Kuchar a partial pass and moved on – at least until Friday’s match against Garcia.

Garcia missed a putt for birdie on the seventh hole and had a few inches left for par. Assuming that the tap-in was good, Garcia nonchalantly backhanded the putt and missed it.

Kuchar was dumbfounded, saying later that he never conceded the putt but would have given it had he not been at his bag, grabbing something to eat.

The rules officials accompanying the match looked at Garcia and Kuchar, knowing that the putt could not be conceded retroactively. Kuchar said to Garcia that he didn’t want to win the hole like that.

“I was like, ‘OK, so what do you want to do?’ ” said Garcia, recalling his conversation with Kuchar for Sky Sports. “But he didn’t like any of the options, but it is fine. At the end of the day, I am the one who made the mistake.”

Garcia is right that he made the mistake, but Kuchar looks like the bonehead, which in this case he is.

He easily could have said that, of course he had given the putt, and moved on. Or, as in soccer, when a team benefits from a bad call, it often will kick the ball out of bounds on a free kick, in solidarity with the other team.

Golf is a gentleman’s game. Someone needs to talk with Kuchar and let him know what’s at stake if he continues on this path of self-destruction. How is it that Garcia looked like the adult in the room, while the ever-smiling Kuchar looked like the dolt?

Paul McGinley, the former European Ryder Cup captain, took Kuchar out to the proverbial woodshed on Sky’s coverage of the Match Play.

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Tiger Woods advances to the quarterfinals of the WGC Match Play before missing a 6-foot putt and losing on the 18th hole to Denmark’s Lucas Bjerregaard.

“It gives an insight into Matt Kuchar,” McGinley said. “You see the smiley, nice Matt Kuchar. You’ve seen the incident with the caddie. There’s a hardness about him. Don’t be fooled by him. I think we saw another illustration of it there.”

Woods looked good. He advanced from the four-man, round-robin group play and then faced McIlroy. The Woods of old would have had no issues with McIlroy, but Woods, 43, is not the Woods of old, just old, and it showed during every match. Woods is susceptible to the same issues that other golfers experience.

After dispatching McIlroy, 2 and 1, in the Round of 16, Woods faced Bjerregaard, a two-time European Tour winner from Denmark. After taking a 2-up lead through five holes, Woods would win only one hole the rest of the way. On the 18th hole, after dumping a flip wedge into a greenside bunker, Woods missed a 6-foot putt to extend the match.

I have seen Woods miss short putts, but almost never with something on the line.

Woods, a four-time Masters champion, has drawn a lot of attention as one of the favorites for Augusta National next week. After his performance at the end of regulation against Bjerregaard, Woods seems ready merely to make the cut and finish in the middle of the pack.

On a side note, Woods had the gallery and perhaps others in attendance on his side. NBC/Golf Channel’s Jimmy Roberts compared Woods’ loss to Jack Fleck beating Ben Hogan in the 1955 U.S. Open at the Olympic Club. Seriously?

Woods is nowhere close to his prime; his game is that of an older star. This wasn’t a major championship but rather match play over only 18 holes, not 36, a more fitting length, according to most pros, to see who is the better player.

Yes, Woods moved the needle in Austin, but he already was back at his home in Jupiter, Fla., when Roberts made that comparison. It calls into question Roberts’ integrity, or at least his knowledge of golf history.

Lastly, to the fans of Austin: Clearly, you think Woods is a god – and you wouldn’t be the first – but that does not mean you have to give up sportsmanship.

There were two specific incidents. In the Round of 16, McIlroy hit his third shot over the 16th green, and the fans parted like the Red Sea to allow the ball to go out of bounds. Earlier, Woods hit an errant tee shot left, and fans stopped the ball from going out of bounds. The other occurred when Bjerregaard missed a birdie putt on the 18th hole to win the match, and a big cheer arose.

Golf, more than any other game, is built on the decorum not only of its players but of its fans. Austin’s golf fans should be ashamed of themselves.

Alex Miceli is the founder and publisher of Morning Read. Email: alex@morningread.com; Twitter: @AlexMiceli