Georgia boy Matt Kuchar savours the adoration of Augusta's generous patrons

Oliver Brown
Matt Kuchar finished with a flourish and final round 67 - Getty Images North America

Matt Kuchar, proud native of the state of Georgia, has the gawky grin of an overgrown frat-boy. It is central to his popularity, the reason why Augusta patrons assail him with cries of ‘Kooch’ at every turn. Never was this chorus more raucous than around the par-three 16th, always a fervid amphitheatre on Masters Sunday, where the evergreen Kuchar’s hole in one last night sent the galleries into raptures. Even playing companion Rory McIlroy, who managed a brilliant birdie of his own, felt a mere bystander.

A metronomic player, who seldom fails to collect a gargantuan pay cheque wherever he goes, Kuchar turned on the afterburners this time. He has quite the pedigree here, having produced a stunning performance at Augusta as an amateur in 1998, and the most loyal crowd in sport has never let him forget it. After he raced into the equation with three consecutive birdies from the 12th, Kuchar detonated perhaps the loudest roar of an unforgettable day with his coup de grâce amid the lengthening evening shadows.

So often this hole yields moments to cherish. In the past 14 years, 11 players have plundered an ace on its steeply sloping green, where a well-struck ball tends to funnel towards a hole cut perilously close to the water. Kuchar knew his had a chance the moment he struck it, watching it track inexorably from right to left before diving into the edge of the cup.

Given the stakes – Kuchar leapt in that instant to five under par, with a realistic chance of victory – it was perhaps the most ear-splitting noise heard here since Tiger Woods fashioned his wonderful chip-in back in 2005.

Kuchar only enhanced his reputation with his own audience when he then decided to give his ball to a boy in an orange top beside the green. “One of the cool parts of our job is to bring a smile to kids’ faces,” he said. “For me that golf ball is not a keepsake but it could brighten up his day and maybe we’ll see him back here playing in a couple of years.”

Matt Kuchar made a hole-in-one on the par-three 16th Credit: AP

His love affair with this course only deepens, given how regularly it rewards his consistency and composure. “I love being here,” Kuchar said.

“It brings back some great memories from amateur days, from all the times I have been in contention. To get that amazing roar, my kids will have heard it in day care a few miles down the road.”

Thomas Pieters, likewise, was creating theatre with each stride that he took. The book of Belgian golfers is hardly the thickest volume, but the 25-year-old prefers not to pay much heed to history.

Ever since he drove up Magnolia Lane for his first Masters a week ago, he has been delightfully immune to the pressures of this place. When it was put to him that no rookie had won here since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979, he shot back: “I don’t care about that. Augusta is lovely and it’s special, but it’s just another golf course.”

It was a disappointing final round for 2015 champion Jordan Spieth Credit: Getty Images

It was testament to Pieters’s perfectionism that even though he shot a 68 to claim a share of third place, he still looked far from content. A golfer who burst to prominence at last year’s Ryder Cup has now cemented himself as a star of the future.

Jordan Spieth’s calibre, of course, is more celebrated, as one with ice in his veins and a sport at his feet. 

Remarkably, this was the first time in four appearances that the Texan had not held at least a share of the 54-hole lead, and the novelty appeared at first to unsettle him.

His drive at the first underlined his occasional waywardness off the tee, perhaps the main weakness in his armoury, as the ball plunged into a fairway bunker en route to a bogey that stymied his momentum. 

The charge was derailed altogether when he again put an iron into the water at the 12th, just as he had at the same stage 12 months earlier. At least he had the awareness to offer a wry grin in acknowledgement.

Spieth has an affinity with Augusta unequalled in the Masters’ 87-year history. In four visits, he is a combined 26 under par, less by dint of Woods-esque dominance than his own precociously calculating brain.

Spieth has finished in the to-10 in each of his four Masters starts as a pro Credit: Reuters

Spieth said: “It has just been about positioning: playing the course the way it is supposed to be played, where par could be your worst score, and giving myself short putts. It is really a matter of thinking around it and using a bit of experience. 

“I don’t overpower it. I only hit 55 per cent of fairways – that’s not very good. This place was Tiger-proofed at one point. You can’t really Jordan-proof it.”

There have been signs at this Masters that the strutting Spieth of 2015 has begun to return. 

That sophomore year on tour was a season for the ages, in which he achieved a better cumulative score in the majors than even Woods had managed when he torched the record books in 2000. 

Spieth claims that he weathered that disappointment of last year in a matter of minutes, given that he still rallied over the final holes to ensure a runner’s-up finish, and it is difficult to doubt him.

A nine at the 15th in his first round this time would have consigned lesser players to oblivion, but Spieth refused to give up the chase. 

He faltered uncharacteristically with his putting yesterday, but seldom let his body language dip. Of all the lessons from Spieth’s latest display of high drama at Augusta, one is that the scar tissue of 2016 has been emphatically removed.

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