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Kuchar Looks to Repeat at Sawgrass


Matt Kuchar logged the biggest victory of his stellar career last year. The 1997 U.S. Amateur champion closed with a 2-under 70 to win the Players Championship by two strokes over Rickie Fowler, Martin Laird, Ben Curtis and Zach Johnson.

The five-time Tour winner, who earned a spot on the 2012 U.S. Ryder Cup team, is paired with No. 1-ranked Tiger Woods and No. 6 Brandt Snedeker in the first round. The threesome starts at 1:49 ET on the first hole of the Pete Dye-designed course.

Kuchar, currently ranked 11th, is off to a solid start in 2013. In February, in very cold and sometime snowy conditions near Tucson, the 34-year-old outlasted defending champion Hunter Mahan to win the Match Play Championship for his first World Golf Championship title.

In 10 events this year, he's had four top-10 finishes, made every cut and earned $2,469,773, ranking fourth on the season's money list. He's also fourth on the season-long FedEx Cup points list.

On Tuesday, the always-smiling Kuchar met with the media to talk about last year's victory at Sawgrass, the current state of his game, the possible ban on anchored putters - a similar version of which he uses, and how he thinks the Pete Dye-designed course will play this week. Here's what Kuchar had to say.

MODERATOR: We'd like to welcome our defending champion, Matt Kuchar, as well as Kuch's Crew who have joined us and are shadowing Matt. Last time we were in here you were crowned Players Championship winner. It's been a great year so far for you. Maybe just reflect on the past year and coming back to defend.

MATT KUCHAR: I'm so excited to be back. It's hard to believe that it's been a year. The memory is so fresh and so vivid. I was out here and played a practice round Sunday. I drove down from Sea Island and got a practice round in, had dad caddie for me, and kind of relived a lot of the holes and shots from Sunday's finale. It was kind of just still so fresh to both dad and I, and I had mom out here Sunday morning to film kind of a Mother's Day intro. So really things are fresh, things are just really exciting for me to be back. I've been playing some good golf. It's been a nice start to my year. I think this is a great opportunity. They tell me nobody's defended the title. I think it's going to be fun to at least try to defend the title.

Q. I guess maybe sociologically this could be explained somewhere, but when you've won a tournament, does it always seem like the year goes by faster in between winning it and coming back?

MATT KUCHAR: Yeah.

Q. A lot of guys say that I can't believe a year has gone by since I won 'X.'

MATT KUCHAR: I think that's right. I don't know what makes it that way, but I think you have such great memories after a win that they seem to stay around and stay so fresh. I think tournaments where you don't have the same success you try to weed out of your memory bank, and the memories, hopefully, aren't as fresh of the less successful events. So maybe it's just having those memories so much more vivid from winning makes it seem like it was just a couple weeks ago that you last won.

Q. And is it possible for you to pick one memory from that Sunday that stands out that means the most to you right now? One shot or one moment afterwards?

MATT KUCHAR: I think as a fan of the game and as a player of the game, watching at home, watching people win and having their family run out onto the green to celebrate, I think that's one of the coolest moments in the game. For me, having kids, my wife, my parents, my in laws all there to kind of meet me on the 18th green was one of those moments that I'll always remember.

Q. Are you the type of person that will draw any motivation from the fact that the defending champion hasn't repeated here, or do you think the tournament stands alone by itself and that's motivation enough?

MATT KUCHAR: Some of both. I think there is definitely some of both. I know this year I look back to the Masters and the par 3 tournament, and I gave it everything I had to win the par 3. I was playing alongside Steve Stricker and Mike Weir. And Steve Stricker was funny because I had a good stretch of birdies going, and he was making sure I was staying focused. Even with a simple three footer for par, he was like, "now take your time. Come on. Let's get this done." He knew that I wanted to win, and he wanted to see somebody win and have a chance to break that curse. I don't think that this is necessarily a curse that nobody's defended the title here, it's just kind of one of those stats you pull out, and I'd like to be the first guy that is able to repeat.

Q. Talk about the course a little bit. The weather has been crazy, we saw 17 flooded a couple days ago, and it looks like it's in great shape, but what have you seen out there?

MATT KUCHAR: I don't remember how long ago it was that they dug it up and redid all the drainage, but amazing how it drains. I was up at Sea Island with the big storms and looking at the radar and seeing Jacksonville just get pounded. And Sea Island kind of still got the tail end of the storm, but I was still able to play golf on Friday and Saturday when things were completely wiped out here. Came down on Sunday and was really impressed by the course conditions. Everything was dry, the balls were getting a little bit of roll on the fairway, which I did not expect at all. I had brought down rain pants and waterproof shoes figuring I was just going to be slopping around in the mud. But the course is fantastic. They've done a great job, what they did with doing all the drainage work, so it really looks good out there.

Q. Is it more important to be strategic here rather than long, like hit your spots more than anything?

MATT KUCHAR: I think this place you pretty much need everything. Certainly you can look back not too long ago to Fred Funk and say you don't have to be long to win, which is a great testament that you get players of all natures. You get Davis Love, guy like Tiger Woods, guys that can really hit it a long way that win out here, and then guys like Fred Funk who just place the ball in the right spot and still can compete and still can win. So I think this place really kind of tests it all.

Q. 16, 17, and 18, you can hit a great shot there and still be unlucky coming down the stretch. Talk about the importance of just playing those three holes down the stretch well and getting lucky on them.

MATT KUCHAR: Hopefully you don't need luck. You can get good and bad luck as is the nature of the game of golf. But I think this course rewards good shots. I don't think it ever really penalizes good shots. So here, 16 is a hole that you go into and you're really looking to make 4. I think you walk off with 5 and you're a bit disappointed. You feel like you've kind of lost a shot. 17, really, 3 is all you want every day all week. 18, if you can walk off even par for four rounds of golf, you've probably gained some strokes on the field. That is just a really demanding tee shot, and then the second shot doesn't really let up either. It's just a fantastic finishing hole. It's one of those ones where you've got to step up and hit good shots.

Q. Is it the toughest on Tour?

MATT KUCHAR: On Tour, I haven't thought through it. It's got to be up there. I'm sure there are some stats that would say just what it was. But it's certainly one of those that is high on my list as toughest on Tour.

Q. Although your method of putting is not going to be any problem even if the USGA goes ahead with its anchoring ban, however, given two of the last three Players Championship winners and four of the last six major champions have used either a belly or a long putter, is it just that those were the guys that played well that week? Do you think it has anything to do with the putter or the putting method? Do you go along the school of thought if it really was an advantage more people would be doing it?

MATT KUCHAR: I think I feel on both sides of the fence there. I think I feel like you're right in the comment that if it was a full advantage, everybody would do it. I gave it a try because I thought, to me, theoretically, there's got to be an advantage. It seems like it helps. I tried belly putting beginning of last year for probably the first two months of the season in 2012, and I didn't putt any better. I thought it might make me a little more consistent having it anchored, and it wasn't better, so I let it go.

I don't know, four of the last six majors, what the reasoning there is. That's kind of a small sample size. You look at the rest of how many in the last two years, 80 PGA Tour events. I don't know how many won with anchored putters, but it's certainly not going to be that same percentage. Theoretically, I think it makes sense and it would help, but, again, I tried it. It didn't make me any bit of a better putter. I know there is a skill to doing it. I really don't know where exactly I feel I lie on the whole situation of whether banning it for or against banning it.

Q. How did you happen on to the method that you're using now? Was somebody else doing it? Did you figure it out yourself?

MATT KUCHAR: It was a happenstance meeting with Dave Stockton. I belong to a club out in Palm Springs called the Vintage Club. Right after the Bob Hope I help out with a clinic, and they bring in Jim McLean and a couple other instructors and they brought in Dave Stockton as the putting coach. So I was anxious just to chit chat with Dave about putting. I have some things that I think are kind of my keys to putting well, and I was seeing what some of his were.

So we were talking on the putting green, and I hit a few putts and he said try this or that, and before long I was holding on to his putter and just choked down a little further on it so it ran up into my wrist, the grip did. So I said well, if I just kind of lock the grip up against my wrist and try to putt that way. He said, yeah, let's see how that looks. And it felt great. It felt like I used to as a kid, have a big forward press, and it reminded me of how I putted as a kid.

So I fiddled with different putters and lengths, and it's been kind of a two year process to get to the putter I'm at right now with all the different kind of tweaking I've done, and I had fun designing and making a new putter. But Dave Stockton was the guy that kind of got me started with it, and I kind of took it to a different level of where he kind of suggested I go, but that was kind of the basic story behind how I started it.

Q. Did you call the USGA to check and see if that would have been part of any anchoring ban or did somebody tell you that was going to be okay?

MATT KUCHAR: I heard just rumors here and there when they were discussing. I never called or was informed other than reading how the rule is to be written. I'm not sure exactly where it stands just yet. Where does the ruling - they still haven't made the rule yet.

Q. They're going to make a final decision pretty soon.

MATT KUCHAR: Pretty soon the final decision will happen? What I read was my method is okay.

Q. When you look at this course, whether you're starting on the front nine or the back nine, it feels like there are a couple instances where you can get caught up looking ahead at a hole because there are so many complicated holes or distractions on the outside, not just 17, but talk about the mental aspect of playing this course and how you approach it.

MATT KUCHAR: I think golfers get pretty good at not doing that. I think there may be a handful of guys that if they're maybe struggling a little bit say just let me get to 16 where I have a shot at birdie there or front side. I don't know. There aren't a whole lot of just here's a birdie hole. There aren't really any of those. But golfers are pretty good about staying in the moment, in the present, and not really getting ahead of themselves.

But you're right. If things aren't going well for you, this course is going to eat you up pretty quickly. And if things are going well for you, there is a handful. I don't know that anybody ever eats this course up. I think winning score never really gets out of control for four rounds. It's one of those that pars are good scores. You take birdies when they're given to you. It's one of those that is certainly challenging. Every hole, I find myself, I never get too far ahead because every shot is so crucial that you just pay so much attention to the shot in front of you. If you let up at all on the shot in front of you, it's going to cost you. So I think this is one of those courses where it seems to affect me that way to force me to stay even more in the present.

Q. If you have a single one, what would be your favorite hole on this course that doesn't have an island green?

MATT KUCHAR: I really enjoy is it 6 the short par 4?

Q. Four.

MATT KUCHAR: No, no, 6.

Q. With the trees on the tee?

MATT KUCHAR: Yeah. It's a straight hole, but it requires a precision shot off the tee. It's generally a 3 wood or hybrid or long iron off the tee. A chance to make a birdie with a good tee shot, but I've had my fair share of bogeys and seen my fair share of other scores as well there. It's one of those that I like the simplicity in it, and I like kind of the risk reward with a good tee shot you've got chance for birdie, and if you miss your tee shot, you could wind up with another.

Q. I think at Dove Mountain in the snow your kids expected or predicted or wanted snow there. Is there anything that the family is looking for weather wise here this week, and if so, what weather would you like as far as to complement this course design to favor you? Wind off the ocean, wind from the west, wet, dry?

MATT KUCHAR: We just checked in and we looked out of our hotel room on to the little lagoon or pond that's outside of the hotel, and my kids were very anxious to go alligator hunting, so I think that will be on the list of projects for the week and activities for the week. I told them in my practice round I must have seen a couple hundred turtles out here, so they'll be looking for turtles and alligators this week.

Weather that suits, firm and fast are my favorite conditions, but it's one of those things where you kind of prepare for everything and are okay with that. If you like firm and fast and you show up in Charlotte and it rains every day, you'd better learn to like wet and cold and soft. I'll certainly be ready for whatever weather. It looks like great weather, and it's fun for the tournament to have good weather. You get a lot of crowds out here. You get some real excitement when the weather is good and people come out and you have great support out here.

Q. Is that such a big platform to win on, do you feel like you're feeling more of anything this year, more distraction, more pressure, more confidence? How do you approach this specific event as the defending champion now?

MATT KUCHAR: I told my wife, this week practice rounds - in years past, practice rounds were more challenging than the normal tournament. There's just so much more excitement and more fans that I told her in years past I wanted to figure out a different way to handle my practice rounds during the week of Players Championship, and by the time Thursday came around, I was pretty tired.

So last year I came down and played a weekend of practice rounds, played Saturday and Sunday when it was just a handful of players and grounds crew out. Then went and didn't come back until I think Wednesday. I played a practice round Wednesday, so I kind of skipped out Monday, Tuesday, and I was able to go home and stay at home. I remember Thursday getting around to it, holy cow, it's already Thursday. This is great. I'm fresh, I'm excited and I can't believe the tournament is already here. So I tried to do the same with my practice rounds. Saturday was a washout here, but I got a practice round in Sunday.

I told my wife this week at home I was a little bit more antsy, just really practicing probably more than normal, really excited to come down to the Players again. It was so strong that the pull for me to get in really good shape, my game in good shape for this week, I put probably more time and probably had a little bit more of an antsy week at home than most weeks. So there are a lot more things to do as defending champion.

Last year, again, I showed up again on Wednesday morning, played a quiet nine holes and was ready to go. This week, coming in on Tuesday, doing a lot of extra defending champion things, there are more pulls on the time. But I think I've learned to prepare for those. I've learned to prepare and learned to allow myself the extra time just through the short amount of experience I have in being champion and defending champion, I've learned to allot some more time and know that things will take longer and there will be a few more demands on your time than normal.

The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of ASAP Sports.