Matt Kuchar doesn’t always smile. It just seems that way.
When his alarm clock went off this morning at 4:30 a.m., putting an end to his five hours of sleep, he admitted that he “didn’t feel very good.” That’s about as angry as he gets.
That feeling disappeared by the end of his second round at the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits in Kohler, Wisconsin, where he leads the tournament at 8-under par following rounds of 67 and 69.
“It’s nice to be done,” Kuchar told reporters as rain drops began to fall along the western shore of Lake Michigan. “This morning wasn’t pleasant. My body needs more than five hours of sleep.”
With fog delaying the start of the first round, Kuchar didn’t leave the course until 9 p.m. local time last night. After fog also delayed Round 2 and with heavy rain forecast to hit overnight, Kuchar is among those fortunate to have completed 36 holes.
By the way he has played the opening two days, perhaps sleep is overrated for the 32-year-old father of two. Through 36 holes, he has an eagle, eight birdies and two bogeys. He needed just 24 putts in the opening round and followed with 28 in the second. The performance hasn’t come as a surprise to Lance Bennett, his caddie of four years.
“It’s fun to watch,” Bennett said. “It’s been a steady progression that last four years. It’s been getting better every single year. I think he’s now comfortable being up in this next tier of players. He’s ready to make the next step.”
While Kuchar is a two-time winner on the U.S. PGA Tour, he has been under the golf radar for most of his career. That doesn’t mean he lacks experience. He lost to Spain’s Sergio Garcia in the quarterfinals of the 1998 U.S. Amateur championship. That same year, he played in the Masters Tournament and U.S. Open, making the cut and finishing as the low amateur in both events.
Enjoying what is easily his best season as a professional, Kuchar has eight top-10 finishes, including a second at the Bob Hope Classic and a third at the season-opening SBS Championship. He also finished sixth at the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach in June, his highest finish in one of golf’s four major tournaments since finishing 14th at the same event in 1988.
Twelve years later, Kuchar leads the U.S. PGA Tour in all- around scoring rank, a combination of nine statistics including driving accuracy (33rd), putting average (24th) and birdies (12th).
“There doesn’t seem to be a weakness in his game,” Bennett said. “His putting has just been phenomenal.”
Among those to applaud Kuchar’s performance was European Ryder Cup captain Colin Montgomerie, who was paired with him for two days at the PGA and may have to contend with Kuchar in the team matches in October.
“Very, very impressive,” Montgomerie said. “He’ll be a great asset for the American team.”
Kuchar, who missed the cut in his previous two PGA Championship appearances, ranks seventh in the standings for the U.S. Ryder Cup team. The top eight players earn an automatic berth to the biennial matches between the U.S. and Europe.
As well as he has played at Whistling Straits, the 6-foot-4 Georgia Tech graduate has had his share of disappointments this season, too. Last week at the Bridgestone Invitational, Kuchar was alone in third place entering the final round before shooting a 3-over par 73 to finish tied for ninth.
According to Kuchar, his play that day might have been just the experience he needed coming into this week.
“I just didn’t have it,” he said. “But I was pleased with the fact that I stayed with it and didn’t give up. I think some guys can have it go the wrong way and kind of give up. Hopefully some of that hard work I did last week will pay off.”