(AP) Matt Kuchar’s fortunes took quite a turn Sunday, and so did his golf ball.
Kuchar beat Martin Laird in a playoff at The Barclays with a 7-iron out of the rough that rolled toward the back of the 18th green, then caught enough of the slope to turn back toward the hole and stop 30 inches away for a birdie.
It was a stunning conclusion to the first FedEx Cup playoff event.
Kuchar closed with a 5-under 66, and it didn’t look as though it would be enough. Laird had a one-shot lead and needed two putts from just inside 25 feet for the victory, when he ran his putt 7 feet past the hole. He missed the par putt, setting up the playoff.
The timing could not have been better for Kuchar.
His first victory of the year came two weeks after he made his first Ryder Cup team, and the win can only give him a shot of confidence. Kuchar moved to No. 1 in the FedEx Cup standings by winning the first playoff event, giving him a good shot at the $10 million prize. And his third career win is likely to move him to a career-best No. 10 in the world ranking.
“Even if I had shut it down without a win, I would have felt it was a great year,” Kuchar said. “To win, it’s an incredible year.”
Tiger Woods continues to make progress, which in this case means he gets to keep going.
Woods, who started these playoffs at No. 112 in the standings, closed with a 4-under 67 to easily make the top 100 who advance to the second round next week at the Deutsche Bank Championship. Woods tied for 12th, his best finish since June, and moved up to No. 65.
Laird, who recovered from a shaky start, looked just as shaky at the end, especially with his putter.
He was tied with Kuchar when he had a 20-foot eagle putt on the par-5 17th, only to roll it nearly 8 feet beyond the hole. He made that birdie putt to take the lead, then repeated his mistake on the final hole in regulation.
This time, the comeback putt never had a chance. Neither did Laird in the playoff after Kuchar’s shot stopped so close to the cup. Laird hit out of the rough to about 50 feet and made par.
“Obviously, not the finish I was looking for,” Laird said. “But I’m very proud of the way I played today. “I was kind of battling all day, and probably holed two or three of the biggest putts I’ve ever holed just to be where I was.”
The only consolation for Laird was being safe through next month in the playoffs. He was at No. 95, hopeful of advancing to the second round, and his runner-up finish puts him at No. 3 and virtually guarantees he’ll be among the top 30 at the Tour Championship who compete for the $10 million prize.
Steve Stricker closed with a 66 to tie for third with Kevin Streelman, whose parents grew up in this neighborhood and whose grandparents are buried in a cemetery next to the seventh hole. Two years ago at Ridgewood, Streelman narrowly missed a playoff. He also was on the bubble, starting at No. 102, and moved up to No. 18.
Rory Sabbatini had the low round of the day at 64 and tied for fifth.
The other big winner Sunday was Andres Romero of Argentina. He made back-to-back double bogeys to fall well outside the top 100, then made a stunning charge with four birdies over his last five holes. Romero holed a 40-foot putt on his final hole to finish at No. 100 in the standings and advance to Boston.
“After the double bogeys, I figured it was lost,” Romero said. “I knew I had to make birdies to have a chance.”
Woods thought he had a chance, despite starting the final round nine shots behind. Practicing a drill on the putting green to keep his eyes over the ball, he took that to the course and played another solid round. It wasn’t nearly enough – he finished five shots behind – but he was encouraged by his play heading into next week at the TPC Boston.
“I haven’t won all year,” Woods said. “But this is a week that I was very close. I felt that if I would have putted better for all four days, I would have been right there. Looking forward to next week.”
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