Revenge was sweet – almost £965,000 sweet – for Matt Kuchar last night when he beat defending champion Hunter Mahan to win the Accenture Match Play title in cold and windy Arizona.
Crushed 6&5 by his fellow American in last year’s quarter-finals, Kuchar captured his first world championship by a 2&1 margin. England’s Ian Poulter, meanwhile, had to settle for fourth place, but is at least back in the world’s top ten for the first time in 25 months.
Europe’s Ryder Cup hero failed to claim the trophy for the second time in four years after losing 4&3 to Mahan in the semi-finals, then went down to a last-green defeat at the hands of Australian Jason Day.
Mahan had not trailed all week until he bogeyed the fourth hole of the final, but by the turn was four down.
Kuchar lost the 10th and 11th before holing what appeared a crucial 12-foot birdie putt at the next after Mahan had fired in his tee shot to four feet. It was halved in two.
Kuchar also birdied the long 13th, only for Mahan to strike back in kind on the next.
They shared the driveable 15th in birdies, but Kuchar fired his tee shot to the short 16th into the grandstand and was only one up. Both bunkered their drives off the next, but Mahan found much the worse lie and could not recover.
Poulter had been trying to make it back-to-back World Golf Championship victories after his triumph at the HSBC Champions in Shanghai last November.
He had beaten Stephen Gallacher, Bo Van Pelt, Tim Clark and Steve Stricker to reach the last four, but an inspired 20-yard chip-in by Mahan from over the short 12th proved the decisive moment.
“It’s a shame really and disappointing,” Poulter said. “Hunter played very solid and chipped unbelievably well.”
The Englishman had hopes of pulling back to only one down when he was the one to find the green on the 12th, but instead he fell three behind. “It just looked perfect as soon as I hit it and it trickled in,” said Mahan, whose duffed chip in the 2010 Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor allowed Graeme McDowell to clinch the match for Europe.
Poulter added: “It was a huge turnaround and from that point there was no let-up.”
The gap quickly became four when he missed the fairway, the green and a five-foot putt for a bogey at the 14th. He came back with a birdie, but it was matched by the 30-year-old Californian and that was that.
Day looked less interested in the consolation game than Poulter when he fired wildly into the desert on three of the first four holes, but he salvaged a half on one of them and then turned things round.
Poulter bogeyed the seventh, ninth and 12th and could not match his opponent’s birdie at the long eighth. Another bogey came on the 14th to leave him three down, but Poulter’s pars took the 16th and 17th before Day got up and down from a bunker at the last. He earned £395,000 to Poulter’s £321,000.
Earlier, Kuchar beat Day 4&3 despite having a double bogey and three bogeys.
There were also three birdies and that was good enough with Day, on his own admission drained from his earlier efforts, an approximate six over par when they shook hands. Three up by the turn, Kuchar had his double on the tenth after hooking his drive into an unplayable lie in the desert scrub, but was not made to pay for another dropped shot at the 12th and Day then took seven on the 583-yard next. Kuchar, a semi-finalist in 2011, said: “The wind picked up and made things really challenging – pars are good scores.”
Day even talked about going off for a sleep after his quarter-final defeat and commented: “I just wasn’t as sharp. I came out a little flat and made a lot of mental errors. I pretty much gave him the game.”