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DeCock: Time is now for Kuchar, Johnson at US Open

By Luke DeCock - staff columnist
Luke has worked for The News & Observer since 2000. He covered the Carolina Hurricanes and the NHL before becoming a sports columnist in August 2008. A native of Evanston, Ill., he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania.
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    Jeff Siner -
    Golfer Matt Kuchar watches his drive from the seventh tee box at the Pinehurst Resort & Country Club, Pinehurst No. 2 in Pinehurst, NC on Tuesday, June 10, 2014.
    Jeff Siner -
    Golfer Dustin Johnson prepares to hit balls on the practice range at the Pinehurst Resort & Country Club, Pinehurst No. 2 in Pinehurst, NC on Tuesday, June 10, 2014.

PINEHURST It doesn’t seem like that long ago Matt Kuchar was the apple-cheeked amateur playing out of his mind at the Masters, his dad toting his bag. Fifteen years later, he’s back for his third spin around Pinehurst No. 2, six PGA Tour wins to his credit but still looking for his first major.

Ranked fifth in the world, Kuchar might lead the list when it comes to the best active players never to have won a major. Certainly, he’s tops among Americans.

“I think I’m still new to that. I think it’s great,” Kuchar said Tuesday. “If you haven’t won a major, you sure want to be a part of that conversation. I’m happy I’m part of that conversation. But certainly it’s a goal of mine. It’s a goal of everybody’s. It’s been a goal of mine since I started playing the game.”

Kuchar has company among his countrymen this week. At 35, he’s in the prime of his career. Dustin Johnson, 29, isn’t far behind. Both have had chances to win majors. Both have a chance to contend this week.

There are younger Americans who might jump ahead, with 20-year-old Jordan Spieth the most likely candidate. There are lesser-known players like Jimmy Walker, who has had about as good a summer as anyone on the tour. There’s Steve Stricker, who at 47 might have seen his best chances pass.

Both Kuchar and Johnson have reached the point in their careers where they’re not only capable of winning a major, but it’s also practically expected of them at this point. And yet here they are, still waiting for that breakthrough.

“They’re coming into that age where they’ve got the experience, they’ve had a couple of chances, they’ve won tournaments,” two-time U.S. Open winner Curtis Strange said. “They’ve won all the money they could ever spend. So now the next step is to really up the ante and win something like this.”

Kuchar knows this course well, having played as an amateur in 1999, making him one of 12 players who were there then and in 2005. In many ways, it feels like Kuchar’s time has come, in part because his game has matured, in part because he has.

“I started the game at 12 or 13 and I can remember throwing clubs and having a temper,” Kuchar said. “I think as I matured and kind of became more the person I am, my temperament is much more easygoing and accepting of things: This is the situation, whether it’s a life situation or a golf situation, and you deal with it, you make the most of it. So in golf I think that it serves me well. It certainly will be in full need this week.”

Johnson’s time already came and went twice, the kind of chances to win majors players await their entire careers slipping through his hands within the space of two months. At the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, a course in California where he typically thrives, he went into the final round with a three-stroke lead only to go 5 over on the first three holes.

A month later at the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin, he grounded his club in what he thought was a waste area on the 72nd hole. It retroactively was ruled a hazard, knocking him out of a playoff won by Martin Kaymer. If Pebble Beach was a bad round, this was just bad luck.

No one doubts Johnson’s length or his talent. With six top-10s in 21 major appearances, he has been knocking on the door his entire career.

Can he break through? Can Kuchar? Their time is now. There’s no telling how much longer it will last.

DeCock:, @LukeDeCock, 919-829-8947
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