PINEHURST — It doesnt seem like that long ago Matt Kuchar was the apple-cheeked amateur playing out of his mind at the Masters, his dad toting his bag. Fifteen years later, hes back for his third spin around Pinehurst No. 2, six PGA Tour wins to his credit but still looking for his first major.
Ranked fifth in the world, Kuchar may lead the list when it comes to the best active players never to have won a major. Certainly, hes tops among Americans.
I think Im still new to that. I think its great, Kuchar said Tuesday. If you havent won a major, you sure want to be a part of that conversation. Im happy Im part of that conversation. But certainly its a goal of mine. Its a goal of everybodys. Its been a goal of mine since I started playing the game.
Kuchar has company among his countrymen this week. At 35, hes in the prime of his career. Dustin Johnson, 29, isnt far behind. Both have had chances to win majors in the past. Both have a chance to contend this week.
There are younger Americans who may jump ahead, with 20-year-old Jordan Spieth the most likely candidate. There are lesser-known players like Jimmy Walker, who has had about as good a summer as anyone on the tour. Theres Steve Stricker, who at 47 may have seen his best chances pass.
Both Kuchar and Johnson have reached the point in their careers where theyre not only capable of winning a major, its practically expected of them at this point. And yet here they are, still waiting for that breakthrough.
Theyre coming into that age where theyve got the experience, theyve had a couple of chances, theyve won tournaments, two-time U.S. Open winner Curtis Strange said. Theyve won all the money they could ever spend. So now the next step is to really up the ante and win something like this.
Kuchar knows this course well, having played as an amateur in 1999, making him one of 12 players who were here then and in 2005. In many ways, it feels like Kuchars time has come, in part because his game has matured, in part because he has.
I started the game at 12 or 13 and I can remember throwing clubs and having a temper, Kuchar said. I think as I matured and kind of became more the person I am, my temperament is much more easygoing and accepting of things: This is the situation, whether its a life situation or a golf situation, and you deal with it, you make the most of it. So in golf I think that it serves me well. It certainly will be in full need this week.
Johnsons time already came and went twice, the kind of chances to win majors players await their entire careers slipping through his hands in the space of two months. In the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, a course where he typically thrives, he went into the final round with a three-stroke lead only to go 5-over on the first three holes.
A month later in the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, he grounded his club in what he thought was a waste area on the 72nd hole. It was retroactively ruled a hazard, knocking him out of a playoff won by Martin Kaymer. If Pebble Beach was a bad round, this was just bad luck.
No one doubts Johnsons length or his talent. With six top-10s in 21 major appearances, hes been knocking on the door his entire career.
Can he break through? Can Kuchar? Their time is now. Theres no telling how much longer it will last.
DeCock: email@example.com, @LukeDeCock, 919-829-8947