Friends Kuchar, Woodland co-leaders at The Barclays
JERSEY CITY - Saying that the co-leaders at The Barclays are both in a New York state of mind goes beyond noting that Gary Woodland feels great about playing in view of the Manhattan skyline and that Matt Kuchar won this event three years ago and tied for second one year later.
For those two, the comfort level in these environs translated into feeling brazen enough to take batting practice in an indoor cage at Citi Field on Tuesday.
They are close friends and fellow clients of a sports agency that also represents ballplayers. They were invited to the Braves clubhouse by catcher Brian McCann, a friend of Woodland's who let them use the cage. Kuchar did the pitching, Woodland the hitting.
"Gary was impressive swinging a baseball bat," Kuchar said after both of them were more impressive swinging their golf clubs well enough to finish the third round of The Barclays Saturday as the leaders at 12 under par.
They are one stroke ahead of Kevin Chappell, who shot a record 9-under 62 at Liberty National and had his own New York story: He was inspired by a visit to the 9/11 Memorial on Wednesday.
In any case, it sets up for an interesting finish Sunday, especially when you factor in that Tiger Woods rallied to reach 8 under, tied for fourth with Englishman David Lynn. No introductions will be needed in the final twosome.
"Kooch is one of my best friends out here. We play mostly every practice round together," said Woodland, who played a year of small college basketball before transferring to Kansas and concentrating on golf.
Kuchar is familiar with the fact that Woodland is one of the longest hitters on the PGA Tour. He once chose Woodland as his partner to represent the United States in the World Cup for just that reason. "Man that guy can really play some golf," Kuchar said when given the invitation to publicly razz his buddy, who was standing nearby.
Woodland was at his best at the close of the front nine, making four birdies in a row. He was hot and cold on the back, yet finished with 3-under 68. He has endured numerous injuries, including problems with both wrists last year, then earned his way into the PGA Championship and the FedEx Cup playoffs by winning the Reno-Tahoe early this month.
He cited new short-game and mental conditioning coaches. "I'm in a great mental state right now and I'm playing pretty well," he said, adding that Liberty National has brought out the best in him. "It sets up really good to my eye. Obviously, the greens are great. You get in the right spot, you can make putts. Off the tee box, I can really use my length to my advantage."
Kuchar can use his experience and his overall skill to his advantage. He figures it probably is no coincidence that he has played so well in the New York-area stop in the playoffs. He said he gears up for the majors season -- he often has contended in majors but has yet to win one -- and is right in form when The Barclays comes up in August.
After a rough front nine, Kuchar was solid on the back, making three birdies and six pars for a 70.
"These are great events," he said of the playoffs. "It's become a really fun format. I've had my chances in the past, you know, and been rewarded pretty well for some of my play."
When he was asked if he gets pumped for the FedEx Cup, Kuchar answered in less than a New York minute: "There's a $10-million incentive."