Kevin Kisner shows he’s a grinder, beating Matt Kuchar for Match Play title

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 This time, Kevin Kisner went one better.

The scrappy Georgia Bulldog, who spent years on the back roads of professional golf playing anywhere he could, toppled Matt Kuchar, 3 and 2, to win the World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play at Austin Country Club on a Sunday that started in bitter cold and closed in radiant sunshine.

Last year Kisner lost in the final to Bubba Watson, clearly running out of gas against the big-hitting lefty in the 7-and-6 rout. But in this year’s final, Kisner, the 48th seed, grabbed the lead with a birdie on the first from 11 feet and never trailed in the match. He closed it out with a 20-foot birdie on the 16th.

“I was thinking out there it might be the hardest (tournament to win) just because you have the physical aspect more than any other week,” Kisner said. “It was grueling, definitely with the winds, the temperature today. Overall it was a long week, but I prevailed and I’m a world golf champion.”

Kuchar, who was trying to win his 10th PGA Tour title, beat Tyrrell Hatton in the Sweet 16, Sergio Garcia in the quarterfinals and Lucas Bjerregaard in the semifinals. But Kuchar, the 23rd seed, didn’t have an answer for Kisner.

“It’s tough to maintain the high level of play the entire tournament,” Kuchar said. “You hope to do it and I feel like I’ve kind of built a game that I could rely on playing some good, steady golf. But I gave too many holes away.

“It’s one of the things I pride myself on is not ever giving holes away. I knew against Kisner I couldn’t do it, and he just plodded along and played good, steady golf, and let me make mistakes. And that was good playing by Kevin.”

Kisner joined Tiger Woods, Hunter Mahan, Paul Casey and Geoff Ogilvy as the only players to reach the finals in back-to-back years. And he became the first to win the Match Play after losing his first match since the tournament moved to pool play in 2015.

Kisner, who played 120 holes in his seven matches, lost to Ian Poulter but rebounded to beat Tony Finau and Keith Mitchell to set up a playoff with Poulter to advance out of pool play. Kisner won on the third hole with a birdie to knock out Poulter for the second consecutive year (he beat Poulter in the quarters last year).

“Losing to Poulter put me behind the 8-ball huge,” he said. “Then winning that playoff I felt catapulted me to having a chance to win the golf tournament. That’s when I finally felt like we can do it.”

Kisner then trounced Hao Tong Li, 6 and 5, and Louis Oosthuizen, 2 and 1, to reach the final four. In Sunday’s semifinals against Francesco Molinari, Kisner took a 2-up lead after 14, but Molinari won the 16th and 17th to tie. On the final hole, Molinari three-putted from 27 feet and Kisner advanced with a par.

In the consolation match, Molinari defeated Bjerregaard, 4 and 2. Bjerregaard had defeated his boyhood hero, Tiger Woods, in the quarterfinals.

Last year’s defeat to Watson was a learning experience for Kisner, 35, who won his third PGA Tour title and first since the 2017 Dean & Deluca. Last year he spent far too long on the range pounding golf balls before the finals. This year he took a shower between the Sunday matches, got some treatment on his body and spent 15 minutes on the range.

“I think that greatly helped my mental side of the game as much as anything,” he said. “I wasn’t overhyped for it and just tried to go play a casual round of golf.”

At the end of the long week, as he spoke to the media, Kisner reflected on those days he was playing anywhere he could. In many ways, this week was a snapshot into Kisner’s career as a whole. His father staked him with $16,000 when he started playing professionally in 2006, and while times got tough here and there, Kisner never received another dollar from his dad.

“I think that’s probably the coolest part of my career is I had to make putts when it mattered starting at a young age and I learned to do it,” Kisner said. “And when you’ve got to make a putt to clear money for the week to fill your car up or drive back home, it makes you a stronger person.

“I think it shows in my grind. That’s what I do. I’m just a grinder. My whole career I’ve grinded. I’ve had ups and downs throughout it. I’ve won on every tour, every level. And had tremendous downfalls on every tour and every level. So I pride myself in the way I pick myself up and keep grinding.”

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