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All-American final at Match Play Championship

February 24, 2013

MARANA, Ariz. (AP) — Hunter Mahan and Matt Kuchar gave the Match Play Championship its first all-American final in five years.

Mahan extended his streak to 166 holes without trailing and defeated Ian Poulter on the strength of his chipping. He holed a chip from just inside 70 feet for birdie on the 12th hole that gave him command of his match, and he went on to a 4-and-3 victory.

Mahan, the defending champion, had a chance Sunday afternoon to join Tiger Woods as the only back-to-back winners in the 15-year history of this event.

“I know I’m playing well,” Mahan said. “That’s the best thing I have going for me.”

Kuchar advanced to the championship match for the first time and set up a rematch of last year’s quarterfinals, when Mahan beat him, 6 and 5.

He fell behind briefly against Jason Day until the Australian started missing fairways and missing putts, a bad combination in match play. Kuchar took a 3-up lead on the par-5 13th hole when Day laid up into a bunker, flew the green and gave away the hole with a double bogey.

“This has been a lot of golf, and it’s fun to continue to survive,” Kuchar said.

That’s what the four semifinalists had to do Sunday morning in the high desert — survive.

A week already famous for a snowstorm that caused a one-day delay got another dose of desert weather when a strong, frigid wind showed up as the matches were making the turn. The gusts were 25 mph, and the 10th and 11th hole played dead into it.

Kuchar gave Day a flicker of hope when he drove into the desert on the 10th, but neither could make birdie on the par-5 11th. And when Day chopped up the 13th, it was only a matter of time. Kuchar closed him out with a birdie on the 15th.

“Just wasn’t quite as sharp,” Day said. “I played great golf yesterday and just came out this morning a little flat and made a lot of mental errors out there, and just pretty much gave the game to Kooch.”

The featured match was Mahan and Poulter, two of the best in this format over the last few years.

Mahan wound up winning his 12th consecutive match, dating to his singles win over Day in the Presidents Cup at Royal Melbourne in 2011. Poulter brought a 19-3-2 record into the semifinals dating to his Match Play Championship win in 2010.

Mahan went ahead for good on the fifth hole. Poulter drove into a bunker, and from about 245 yards into a cold wind, he played an aggressive shot that wound up in a desert bush. He did well to have a 6-foot bogey putt. Mahan couldn’t reach the green, but hit a good pitch from 45 yards to 7 feet and made par.

On the par-5 eighth, Poulter went to the left with his layup and couldn’t hit his third shot any closer than 18 feet. Mahan, short of the green, hit a delicate chip that settled about 2 feet for a conceded birdie, and Poulter missed.

The strength of the wind and difficulty of the conditions were best illustrated on the next two holes.

Poulter drilled a hybrid and still couldn’t reach the 10th green. And on the par-5 11th, Mahan had 106 yards to the flag and hammered a 9-iron that didn’t quite get there.

“Guess our 160 club wasn’t enough from 106,” his caddie said.

They halved the hole with a bogey.

The match effectively ended on the par-3 12th, when Mahan went so far long that the ball rolled under the mesh skirt of a corporate chalet. After getting a free drop, he lofted his chip on the green, over a ridge, and it dropped into the center of the cup with the pace of a putt.

Mahan pumped his fist, as Poulter tried to block it out, showing no emotion as he knelt to place his ball on the green. His 50-foot birdie putt never had a chance.

“It looked perfect as soon as I hit it and it just trickled in, so it was obviously a big turning point,” Mahan said.

One other wedge shot from Mahan won’t get as much attention. He was 75 yards short of the green in two on the par-4 ninth, with Poulter safely on the green. Mahan’s third shot checked up 2 feet away, which allowed him to keep momentum and go to the back nine with a 2-up lead.

Mahan has not trailed in any match since the sixth hole of the opening round last year against Zach Johnson.

“Hunter played very solid today,” Poulter said. “He chipped it unbelievably well when he had to.”

The last all-American final was 2008, when Woods defeated Stewart Cink. This assured the seventh time an American wins the Match Play Championship, and it makes it a clean sweep of the West Coast Swing for U.S. players the last two years on the PGA Tour.

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