Matt Kuchar gave himself a nice morale booster by winning the first edition of the Hero Challenge 2018 series ahead of two weeks of Links Golf at the Scottish and British Opens. Kuchar, who turned 40 last month and has 13 worldwide titles, but still does not own a Major, will on Thursday play alongside Lee Westwood and Stephen Gallacher in the first two rounds of Scottish Open.
Shubhankar Sharma, who was eliminated in the league stage of the Hero Challenge has been paired for Scottish Open with 2018 Hero Indian Open winner Matt Wallace and Scott Jamieson, while SSP Chawrasia plays with Trevor Immelman and Jeff Winther.
On Tuesday, with the iconic Edinburgh Castle as the backdrop, Kuchar stopped a good number of hits inside a set of circles drawn at 80 metres distance from an elevated platform. He beat an impressive field that included 2017 Scottish Open champion, Rafa Cabrera-Bello, fellow American Charley Hoffman, India’s rising star, Shubhankar Sharma, ‘Ryder Cup’ superstar Ian Poulter and local hero Richie Ramsay in an exciting contest at Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo’s extraordinary amphitheatre in front of Edinburgh Castle.
Shubhankar went out in the league stage with Cabrera-Bello and Poulter going through from the group while Ramsay exited after playing against Kuchar and Hoffman. In the semi-finals, Hoffman beat Cabrera-Bello and Kuchar found a Bulls Eye while beating Poulter. Kuchar again hit the Bulls Eye in the final against fellow American Hoffman and had an additional shot landing in the outer circle to be able to afford to give the host, Vernon Kay, a go instead in his final shot.
With more than 4,000 spectators cheering them on, the players were split into two groups with top two from both going into the semi-finals ahead of the title clash. The target was a set of circles in an enclosed square. The idea was not only to get ball into that zone but also make it stop on one of the circles. In the semis and final Kuchar made the task look easy even as others struggled.
“I’m looking forward to taking this Hero Challenge trophy home – my kids will love it!”, said Kuchar after receiving the Trophy from Keith Pelley, CEO of the European Tour. Later he added, “It is just an amazing venue, what a cool backdrop.”
“It was the luck of the bounce a little bit but I certainly had the distance and direction looking good. It was awfully nice to end it with a ‘Bulls eye’ there at the end.”
That puts him in the right frame ahead of the Scottish Open and the year’s third Major, The Open, at Carnoustie next week.
In recent years, a whole lot of Americans have been making the trip to Scottish Open with the idea of getting some invaluable practice ahead of the demanding British Open. This year’s field includes 5-time Major winner Phil Mickelson, reigning Masters champion, Patrick Reed and the former PLAYERS champion, Rickie Fowler, among others.