AUGUSTA, Ga. -- There were supposed to be many days like this for Matt Kuchar. When he was competing here in 1998 as the U.S. Amateur champion, he showed enough poise and skill to make anyone figure he would keep coming back and contending for as long as he wanted.

It just didn't happen that way, at least not until Sunday. Kuchar not only failed to ever match his tie for 21st in his first try at the Masters as an amateur, but his career took such a downward spiral that he lost his PGA Tour exemption. He ultimately got it back, he won two tour events (including The Barclays in 2010) and had enough confidence to tie for the lead late on Sunday at Augusta.

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So he was smiling despite having fallen short, basically the way he had smiled through his rounds 14 years ago.

"It was just fun," he said after he finished at 8 under par, two shots from the playoff involving Bubba Watson and Louis Oosthuizen. "You don't know how many chances you get to win the Masters, or how many chances you get to win a major, but I played good. There's nothing I'm going to hang my head about."

Kuchar looked like he might have had something much bigger about which to smile when he laced a 3-wood shot within 3 feet of the hole on the par-5 15th. He knocked in the eagle putt to briefly share the lead with Oosthuizen. "I knew it was good, but you still hold your breath," he said of the approach shot. "It seems to take forever to come down. It was awfully exciting, to get those great Augusta roars."

There were no more roars for him. He left his tee shot on the par-3 16th right, chipped up and two-putted for bogey and never got back in it. The Georgia Tech graduate -- he remains friendly with Mark Teixeira of the Yankees from those days -- might never have another shot like this one, but he'll take this one.

"It was," he said, "a truly great afternoon."