AUSTIN, Texas — Kevin Kisner cannot think of another tournament that made him grind so hard.
He began the Dell Technologies Match Play with a loss in the opening round. He had to play 120 holes over five days. Three matches were decided on the 18th hole. He had to play three sudden-death playoff holes just to get to the weekend. And on Sunday morning, he faced a cold wind that made temperatures feel like the upper 30s.
It all felt worth it when he made good on his second try at winning golf’s most unpredictable tournament.
Kisner outlasted British Open champion Francesco Molinari in the semifinals, then let Matt Kuchar make the untimely mistakes Sunday afternoon until Kisner closed him out with a 20-foot putt for a 3-and-2 victory.
“Grueling, not only from the mental side, but the physical side,” Kisner said. “A lot of golf and a lot of stressful holes and stressful putts.”
But then, that is how he got here in the first place.
“It was a long week. I prevailed. And I’m a world golf champion,” Kisner said.
He became the first player to win Match Play after losing in the championship match the previous year.
“If you’d have told me I’d be sitting here 10 years ago, I would probably have said you were crazy,” Kisner said. “I think it shows in my grind. That’s what I do. I’ve had ups and downs throughout it. I’ve won on every tour, every level. And had tremendous downfalls on every tour and every level. So I pride myself in the way I pick myself up and keep grinding.”
Kisner never trailed against Kuchar, which did not make it any easier. Kuchar had a 12-foot putt to win his second straight hole and tie the match on No. 10, with momentum sure to follow.
He missed, and on his next swing, Kuchar put his tee shot in the water on the par-3 11th.
Kisner, equipped with a 2-up lead, took it from there. He made putts from 6 feet and 4 feet to halve holes, and seized control on the 15th when Kuchar’s chip was too strong and led to another lost hole.
“It’s tough to maintain the high level of play the entire tournament,” Kuchar said. “You hope to do it and I feel like I’ve kind of built a game that I could rely on playing some good, steady golf. But I gave too many holes away. I knew against Kisner I couldn’t do it, and he just plodded along … and let me make mistakes. And that was good playing by Kevin.”
Kisner became the first player to win the Match Play with a loss during the round-robin portion, which began in 2015.
That felt like an eternity ago when he posed in front of the trophy, the sixth straight victory for an American in these World Golf Championships.
Kisner first had to get past Molinari, so dominant that he had never played the 18th hole in five previous matches this week. Molinari birdied the 16th and 17th holes to tie the match, but on the 18th, the Italian three-putted from 25 feet above the hole as Kisner advanced.
Kuchar, who won the Match Play in 2013, had to beat Lucas Bjerregaard in the semifinals in another match that went the distance.
Bjerregaard, who knocked out Tiger Woods in the quarterfinals with clutch shots down the stretch, made a 10-footer on the 17th to stay alive, but he could not come up with the birdie he needed on the 18th.
Molinari beat Bjerregaard in the consolation match, which was worth $712,000. Bjerregaard earned $574,000 for finishing fourth.
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