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When Mark Steinberg, Tiger's agent, left IMG last year and joined Excel Sports, Kuchar was one of the players he was eager to sign. Kuchar and Gary Woodland. He got both. At the Masters this year Steinberg had a 90-second off-campus conversation with Kuchar after three rounds were done and Kuchar was four shots off the lead.
"You don't have that many opportunities to win majors," Steinberg told Kuchar, in Kuchar's telling of it. Tiger Woods became Tiger Woods by seizing almost every opportunity he's had to win majors. "You have to take advantage of them. Go out there and be aggressive." Be aggressive. Be-be aggressive. Kuchar finished two shots out of the Bubba--King Louis playoff.
At the Masters and the Players, Steinberg said on Sunday night, "I saw somebody who wants to win." Of course, every Tour player wants to win, but there are levels of want. Think of the urgency in Sutton's voice when he said the word today. That's what Steinberg was talking about, that kind of desperation, that kind of want.
But the thing that will make the 2012 Players Championship so memorable was not just the solid, go-after-it play of Kuchar, who won with scores of 68, 68, 69 and 70. No. It was that he shot that two-under finale while playing beside Na, who spent the weekend explaining with endearing candor the problems he's having getting his swing started. At times, Kuchar was clearly trying to avoid eye contact with Na's club face, but he wound up seeing most of Na's 76 shots. And, as Kuchar noted, "there's some audio included."
Poor Na has a full-blown case of golfer OCD, where he needs to take four waggles—two little ones and two big ones—before he can pull the trigger. But if some minor thing goes wrong, he has to start all over again. And for Na, there are a lot of things that can go wrong. On the 5th tee he tried to use his driver as a fly swatter. That's always a study in futility. Seconds later he tried to smash down a resilient stray blade of grass that was sticking out of the tee like an unwanted hair. When he was finally over the ball, he had two full-blown Monica Seles grunts when he interrupted his preshot routine and started over. It's not entertaining. You can only feel for the guy. "I'm going to try to take out the whole waggle," Na said when the shouting was over. "Honestly, it's going to be a battle." His droopy final round dropped him into a tie for seventh.
There was a four-way tie for second, two shots behind Kuchar, and all four golfers could play in the Ryder Cup this year: Martin Laird, a Scotsman, for Europe, and Johnson, Fowler and Ben Curtis for the U.S. Thanks largely to his tie for third at Augusta and his victory at the Players, Kuchar is third on the U.S. Ryder Cup points list. The top eight make it automatically. He's almost a lock.
On Sunday night he got a text from Love: "Congratulations on winning your first major." O.K., the Players is not really a major. But when the greens are brown and your playing partner is deep in your head and a win gets you $1.7 million and a black-and-white snap on a wall that features Jack Nicklaus and Lee Trevino and Tiger Woods, the whole thing feels pretty darn grand. Know that. The putt to win went in, and a relieved Tim Finchem checked that his blazer was buttoned and shook the winner's hand. "Yeah, baby!" Kooch said much later, letting loose. They got it in.