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SMI News - Kuchar claims first title since 2002 at Henrico County Open

May 21, 2006

By Joe Chemycz
PGA TOUR staff

Henrico County Open

GLEN ALLEN, Va. -- Matt Kuchar two-putted the third hole of a playoff for birdie and beat Paul Claxton at the $450,000 Henrico County Open, the 10th stop on the 2006 Nationwide Tour. Kuchar (72) rolled in a 20-foot birdie putt on the final hole of regulation to tie Claxton (69) at 9-under-par 279 at The Dominion Club in suburban Richmond and force the extra session.

The pair halved the reachable, par-5 18th hole with two-putt birdies on the first hole and then halved the second playoff hole, the par-3, 9th, with pars before Kuchar ended things back at No. 18. His second shot stopped about 15 feet from the cup and put pressure on Claxton, a good friend who he’d been paired with for the first three rounds. Claxton was pin-high and 35 feet away in two but nestled in the gnarly rough surrounding the green. His chip came out thin and rolled off the edge of the green and forced him to try and make his fourth shot to possibly extend the day. When Claxton missed, Kuchar was all but assured of his first professional win since capturing The Honda Classic on the PGA TOUR in 2002.

“I practiced that same chip that Paul had probably 100 times on the putting green and bladed it just like he did quite a number of times,” said Kuchar, who collected $81,000 for the win. “It happens out of this rough. This rough is so nasty. I would have liked to make that last putt but having two putts to win was a little easier on me.”

Nothing seemed easy during Sunday’s wind-blown day as the third-round leaders faltered early and left the door open for any number of challengers. Jeff Burns, who led by one entering the final round, failed to make a single birdie, shot 78 and wound up tied for fourth, four shots back. Peter Tomasulo, who was down one when the day started, fired a back-nine 41 and dropped into a tie for 10th.

Other challengers came and went, including Jason Caron (70), who was alone in third, one shot out of the extra session. Erik Compton (76) shared the lead at one point but went bogey-bogey-bogey-triple as he made the turn and derailed his chances. With the leaders faltering, Kuchar held steady and Claxton gained ground by posting one of three sub-70 scores on a golf course that turned from pushover to pest, thanks to a penalizing rough which measured 4-plus inches to start the week and got worse from there.

In the end, it came down to staying out of trouble and trying to survive. Kuchar ended the week tied for first in greens in regulation, Claxton was tied for third in that category.

“I finally got a putt to go in there at No. 9 and was hoping to play some good golf,” said the winner, who made a rare birdie at the par 3. “I made a great save for par on No. 10 and got some momentum which I needed because my chipping was so erratic this week. I made some really good chips and some really poor chips.”

After a bogey on the 238-yard, par-3 17th, the former Georgia Tech standout dropped back to 8 under and one back of Claxton, who played college golf at the University of Georgia and was waiting to see who would catch.

“I don’t pay attention to the leaderboard, I didn’t look at it,” said Kuchar, who will head back to the PGA TOUR’s FedEx St. Jude Classic next week. “I didn’t know that putt on 18 was to go into a playoff but I knew it meant something. I had no idea it was to force a playoff. I couldn’t find a leaderboard but I would have liked to have known and didn’t. It worked out well; it was good to beat a Dawg, for sure.”

Fourth-round News & Notes: Parker McLachlin had an interesting round of 2-under-par 70. McLachlin had eight birdies, six bogeys and four pars during his day…The fourth-round scoring average of 73.200 marked the first time in the tournament’s 14-year history that all four rounds were played above par. The cumulative scoring average was 73.452…The winning score of 9-under par was in contrast to the past four years at The Dominion Club, when the winner’s scores have been 20, 20, 30 and 21-under par.

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