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Kuchar earns first PGA Tour win


CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. (AP) _ Matt Kuchar wandered back through the interview room, grabbed his golf bag, slung it over his shoulder and started the long walk to the clubhouse.

``My caddie left my bag,'' Kuchar said, still smiling after two hours of posing for pictures, pausing for autographs and providing answers to perpetual questions. ``How does that happen?''

It was the only forgettable moment on this most memorable day.

Kuchar, the 1997 U.S. Amateur champion who turned down millions in favor of graduating from Georgia Tech, earned his first PGA Tour victory Sunday. The 23-year-old shot a 6-under 66 in the final round of the Honda Classic and beat Brad Faxon (67) and Joey Sindelar (70) by two strokes.

``I wasn't sure it would happen as soon as it did,'' said the soft-spoken Kuchar, who finished at 19-under 269 and earned $630,000 in his 17th event as a professional.

``I knew it would it happen,'' he added. ``I always dreamed and knew that I would win and that I would win a lot, but I wasn't sure that it would happen this soon.''

Some people thought it would happen much sooner.

After winning the U.S. Amateur, Kuchar graced Augusta National as a college sophomore with a game good enough to tie for 21st and earn an invitation back to the Masters.

Two months later, he starred again in the U.S. Open. He outplayed several big names to reach the weekend just two strokes off the lead, and wound up in a respectable tie for 14th.

He could have turned pro then and would have cashed in on lucrative endorsement offers. Though he never saw any numbers, Kuchar guesses the deals would have been worth at least $2 million.

He passed it up for two more years at Georgia Tech, where results were measured by memories, not trophies.

``I've always known it was the right decision,'' he said. ``The experiences I had in college were terrific.''

The first player to win the U.S. Amateur after Tiger Woods turned pro, Kuchar never won another. He didn't even get past qualifying his last two tries. And Georgia Tech never won an NCAA title.

That was the downside.

Kuchar didn't decide to turn pro until after the deadline passed for PGA Tour qualifying school. He worked as an investment banker in nearby Boca Raton, tempted to follow in the steps of Bobby Jones and remain an amateur for life.

But in the fall of 2000, after a few months in the business world, Kuchar was offered and accepted a sponsor's exemption into the Texas Open where a missed cut didn't matter.

What surprised Kuchar was how much he wanted to play again. He turned pro about a month later.

``I wanted nothing more than to be out there the very next week,'' he said. ``I needed to go full-time, see if I could be around week-in, week-out with the best players in the world.''

Kuchar's problem was that he was too late for the Q-School lead-in to gain eligibility for the 2001 PGA Tour season, and was restricted to seven sponsors' exemptions.

He finished second once, third once and won $572,669 _ more than enough to earn his PGA Tour card for this season. Now he has made five cuts in six events and earned $824,791.

``We've got another one of these big, strong kids taking money out of my pocket every week, but my congratulations to him,'' Sindelar said.

Kuchar thinks the victory will finally put to rest any questions about his decision to stay in school.

``This will be the clincher, for sure,'' he said.
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