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Low-key Kuchar enjoying quiet rise to stardom

by | CBSSports.com Senior Writer
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AKRON, Ohio -- Matt Kuchar not only is the most improved player on the PGA Tour over the past three or four years, but arguably the most snooze-inducing.

Matt Kuchar fires a 4-under 66, leaving him one shot off the lead. (AP)  
Matt Kuchar fires a 4-under 66, leaving him one shot off the lead. (AP)  
Not that he isn't interesting, incredibly well-liked, doesn't have a sense of humor or can't laugh at himself. It's just that the Kuchars have a pair of toddlers at home. Maybe that's the secret to his success, because he's certainly no Walter Hagen.

He paints the scoreboard red, not the town.

"He goes to bed every night at 7:30," his wife Sybi said. "We put the two kids to bed and we're trapped."

Clearly, there's something to be said for clean living.

Continuing a breakthrough season that has him pointed toward his first berth on the U.S. Ryder Cup team at age 32, Kuchar shot a near-flawless 66 on Saturday at the Bridgestone Invitational and moved into solo third place at Firestone Country Club.

Nobody should be particularly surprised, because for the past three seasons, the former teenage star has been pointed due north and improving by huge leaps every year to the point where a win in a big tournament seems inevitable.

Just to throw out a couple of telling stats to prove the thesis: Kuchar leads the PGA Tour in the key all-around stat, which is a compilation of the eight key categories, including greens in regulation, driving distance and putting. He ranks No. 1 in actual scoring average, ahead of all the household names. He's 10th in FedEx Cup points. He has eight top 10s this season, and the fourth-best cumulative score among players who have teed it up in the season's first three majors.

Other than that, the guy's been a total slacker.

"Is he the most improved player on tour?" deadpanned English star Paul Casey, who has known Kuchar since college and played alongside him Saturday. "What, was he a bad player before? Are you suggesting he wasn't very good? That's pretty harsh."

Not at all. Just pointing out that he's steadily, and somewhat stealthily, moved up the pecking order to the point where he's No. 7 in Ryder Cup points and has improved 97 spots in the all-around category since 2007, when he returned to the big leagues after a stint on the Nationwide Tour.

More on Bridgestone Invitational

"It's amazing," said Christian Donald, Casey's caddie and the brother of European Ryder Cupper Luke Donald. "He hits every fairway, he hits every green and he putts it good. What else is there?"

That's a rhetorical question, clearly.

Lance Bennett, Kuchar's caddie for the past four years, reeled off a list of reasons why Kuchar has ascended through the ranks of late, including major swing tweaks and diving into a conditioning routine that has added several yards off the tee and made him more flexible.

"And then there's confidence," Bennett said.

Kuchar won a Fall Series event last year, his first victory on the big tour since 2002, and hasn't missed a step since. He was a career-best 24th on the 2009 money list and at the moment stands at eighth.

"The golf he played today, if he did that consistently, he'd be a top 10 player in the world," said Casey, a top 10 player himself, so he ought to know.

Kuchar has been playing solidly all year, on stages great and small. For instance, only Lee Westwood, Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods have amassed better cumulative scores at the season's three majors.

Maybe if the guy blew his horn a bit more often, was a bit more outrageous or dressed in traffic-cone orange outfits, people might actually have noticed. But he's such a homebody, he never creates any headlines except with his steady play.

"You're not going to find any dirt on me," Kuchar cracked, drawing laughs. "I married the coolest chick in the world and we've got two great little kids, and life is good for me. We unfortunately aren't out partying and don't have many stories to tell.

"I'm a big fan of sleep. I enjoy my sleep, so getting to bed early is not a problem for me."

Neither is being a late-riser on the leaderboard.

No matter how it turns out on Sunday, there's one certainty. Kuchar, who won over many fans when he won the 1997 U.S. Amateur and made the leaderboard twice at majors while still in college, will keep the perpetual grin plastered on his face. Same as ever, there's no genuinely happier guy in the game. Kuchar could laugh his way through a proctology appointment or a stint as a pallbearer.

Of course, right now, it's never been easier to smile.

Very, very sarcastically, it was pointed out that while Kooch has emerged as a terrific player, it's a crying shame that he's so congenitally sour, treats fans like gum on his shoe, his caddie like a slave, players like mortal enemies and never signs autographs.

"Yeah," Casey said, smirking, "he is such a douchebag."

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