KEVIN Kisner claimed a maiden World Golf Championships title after triumphing over Matt Kuchar in the final of the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play.
In the consolation match European No. 1 Francesco Molinari overcame Lucas Bjerregaard in an all-European battle to finish third.
Kisner, who finished runner-up to Bubba Watson in this event last year, went one better at Austin Country Club with a 3&2 win over his American compatriot.
That made it six wins in seven matches, and in the process became the first player to lift the trophy after losing his first match of the week.
Georgian native Kisner said: “I was thinking out there it might be the hardest match just because you have the physical aspect more than any other week.
“It was grueling, definitely, with the winds and the temperature today. Overall it was a long week, but I prevailed and I’m a World Golf champion.
“I just learned a lot from last year. I learned about preparation. I learned not to get too amped up for that final.
“You still have to come out and play golf. I don’t think either one of us played our best golf. But I drove it great all week with my Callaway driver, and it was a great week.”
Kisner’s opening defeat came to Englishman Ian Poulter, whom he later beat in a play-off decider to emerge from the group stage, and he had to beat another Ryder Cup hero – Molinari – in the semi-final to earn his place in the decider.
Having been two down with three to play, the reigning Race to Dubai Champion birdied the 16th and 17th holes to bring the match down the 18th all square.
But a disappointing three-putt on the last ended the Italian’s hopes of a maiden World Golf Championships victory.
Molinari said: “Obviously it was a very good start and then I think we were both really struggling for energy a little bit on the back nine.
“It was a very long week but we tried to keep going. And I think I played very well on the front nine this afternoon, so maybe a bit of consolation after this morning.
“It’s just one of those days, too many mental mistakes and some really weird shots around the greens. But all in all it’s a positive week.
“Obviously it’s bittersweet right now. I think going into Augusta, it’s a good week. Clearly I need to get my short game a little bit sharper than this morning, but otherwise it seems pretty good.
“It was definitely a positive week. Just a shame about this morning on the back nine.
“I didn’t play my best game and made too many mistakes, and kind of gave it away once, and then managed to fight my way back and then gave it away again.
“But it’s golf and it’s a long week, and with seven rounds it can happen to be slightly off for a few holes. So, it’s positive in general.”
Kuchar, meanwhile, dispatched of Bjerregaard on the 18th hole in a tight semi-final match in which the Dane was never ahead but was never more than one hole down.
The American’s birdie at the par five 16th put him one ahead with two to play and, although Bjerregaard held his nerve with a birdie putt at the penultimate hole to take it down the last, a pair of closing pars meant Kuchar progressed.
Having been embroiled in a row with Spain’s Sergio Garcia, who swiped at a tap in and missed before Kuchar could give him the nod for a concession, which ultimately cost the European in Saturday’s quarter-final, the 2013 World Match Play champion was disappointed not to become the first player since Tiger Woods to win the title twice.
Kuchar, who already has two wins in the 2019 season under his belt, said after losing to Kisner: “It was certainly not what I’m looking for. It’s tough to maintain the high level of play the entire tournament.
“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. It’s one of the things I pride myself on is not ever giving holes away.
“I knew against Kisner I couldn’t do it, and he just plodded along and played good, steady golf, and let me make mistakes. And that was good playing by Kevin.”
Both Molinari and Bjerregaard – who beat 14-time Major winner Tiger Woods in the quarter-final – could take consolation from their best respective finishes in a World Golf Championships event.
Big-hitting Bjerregaard, the last man in the field, was unhappy after coming down hard from his high after beating Tiger Woods to make the last four.
“There’s a lot of confidence from this. Today sucks, I’ll be honest with you. I had a lot of confidence from yesterday and the group play.
“But today really sucks – I didn’t bring my game today, unfortunately and I just kept making mistakes all day.
“Fran made it hard. I didn’t put pressure on him, but he put a lot of pressure on me right from the start.
“It was not really my match. It’s been a brilliant week. Of course, I can’t stand here and say it’s been a bad week.
“We were 64 to start and I’m in the last four. But to lose twice in a day, that hurts.
“I had a good match against Kooch this morning, and gave him a little bit for his money down the last few holes, and unfortunately I wasn’t able to do that against Frankie today.”