Kisner, Kuchar make it an All-American final at Match Play

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              Kevin Kisner watches his drive on the sixth hole during semifinal play against Francesco Molinari at the Dell Technologies Match Play Championship golf tournament, Sunday, March 31, 2019, in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
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AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Kevin Kisner can’t think of another tournament that made him grind so hard.

He began the Dell Technologies Match Play with a loss in the opening round. He had to play 120 holes over five days. Three matches were decided on the 18th hole. He had to play three sudden-death playoff holes just to get to the weekend. And on Sunday morning, he faced a cold wind that made temperatures feel like the upper 30s.

It all felt worth it when he made good on his second try at winning golf’s most unpredictable tournament.

Kisner outlasted British Open champion Francesco Molinari in the semifinals, and then let Matt Kuchar make the untimely mistakes Sunday afternoon until Kisner closed him out with a 20-foot putt for a 3-and-2 victory.

“Grueling, not only from the mental side, but the physical side,” Kisner said. “A lot of golf and a lot of stressful holes and stressful putts.”

But then, that’s how he got here in the first place.

Kisner, who won $1,745,000 for his first World Golf Championships title, recalls his father staking him $16,000 to see if he could make it as a pro golfer. He won his third tournament on the mini-tours, and when his bank account reached $40,000, he thought he was rich.

The lesson along the way: Make putts or lose money.

That’s what works at the Match Play, and he delivered enough key moments to capture the biggest win of his career.

“It was a long week. I prevailed. And I’m a world golf champion,” Kisner said.

He became the first player to win Match Play after losing in the championship match the previous year.

“If you’d have told me I’d be sitting here 10 years ago, I would probably have said you were crazy,” Kisner said. “I think it shows in my grind. That’s what I do. I’ve had ups and downs throughout it. I’ve won on every tour, every level. And had tremendous downfalls on every tour and every level. So I pride myself in the way I pick myself up and keep grinding.”

Last year wasn’t close, as Bubba Watson raced out to a big lead and ended the match on the 12th hole. Kisner never trailed against Kuchar, which didn’t make it any easier. Kuchar had a 12-foot putt to win his second straight hole and tie the match on No. 10, with momentum sure to follow.

He missed, and on his next swing, Kuchar put his tee shot in the water on the par-3 11th.

Kisner, equipped with a 2-up lead, took it from there. He made putts from 6 feet and 4 feet to halve holes, and seized control on the 15th when Kuchar’s chip was too strong and led to another lost hole.

“It’s tough to maintain the high level of play the entire tournament,” Kuchar said. “You hope to do it and I feel like I’ve kind of built a game that I could rely on playing some good, steady golf. But I gave too many holes away. I knew against Kisner I couldn’t do it, and he just plodded along … and let me make mistakes. And that was good playing by Kevin.”

Kisner became the first player to win the Match Play with a loss during the round-robin portion, which began in 2015. That felt like an eternity ago when he posed in front of the trophy, the sixth straight victory for an American in these World Golf Championships.

Kisner first had to get past British Open champion Francesco Molinari, so dominant that he had never played the 18th hole in five previous matches this week. Molinari birdied the 16th and 17th holes to tie the match, but on the 18th, the Italian three-putted from 25 feet above the hole as Kisner advanced.

Kuchar, who won the Match Play in 2013, had to beat Lucas Bjerregaard in the semifinals in another match that went the distance. Bjerregaard, who knocked out Tiger Woods in the quarterfinals with clutch shots down the stretch, made a 10-footer on the 17th to stay alive, but he couldn’t come up with the birdie he needed on the 18th.

Molinari beat Bjerregaard in the consolation match, which was worth $712,000. Bjerregaard earned $574,000 for finishing fourth.

No matter the format, what hasn’t changed about Match Play is only one guy leaves happy.

Molinari described it as “bittersweet” after winning the consolation match, still thinking about the bogey that cost him the match against Kisner. Bjerregaard, who made a name for himself that remained tough for the Texas crowd to pronounce, left Austin as the 27-year-old Dane who took down Woods.

But he could only think of putts he couldn’t make in either match.

“I can’t stand here and say it’s been a bad week,” Bjerregaard said. “We were 64 and I’m in the last four. But to lose twice in a day, that hurts.”

Kisner was all smiles with a week that tested him every match except for his 6-and-5 win over Li Haotong during group play. Under the circumstances, he played his best golf against Molinari, and he played good enough against Kuchar.

“I just did what I needed to do,” Kisner said.