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By Mark Lamport-Stokes
MARANA, Arizona, Feb 25 (Reuters) - A seven-year victory drought on the PGA Tour helped American Matt Kuchar appreciate the difficulty of winning, and made his triumph at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship on Sunday taste even sweeter.
Kuchar was a gifted collegiate golfer who, as an amateur in 1998, tied for 21st at the Masters and 14th at the U.S. Open but he learned the hard way how inaccessible the winner's circle can be after turning professional in 2000.
"Winning on the PGA Tour is really difficult, you don't win that often," Kuchar told reporters after clinching his fifth title on the circuit with a 2&1 victory over fellow American Hunter Mahan in the Match Play Championship final.
"So to win at all is a real thrill. To have battled the battles, to have gone down to the Nationwide Tour makes you appreciate things all that much more.
"I went seven years between wins. I won in 2002 real early in my PGA Tour career, then went seven years before I won again in 2009."
After landing his maiden title on the U.S. circuit at the 2002 Honda Classic, Kuchar endured some tough times and, as his form deteriorated, he ended up having to return to the satellite Nationwide Tour for most of the 2006 season.
However, that downward move proved hugely beneficial as the American with the relaxed smile linked up with swing coach Chris O'Connell, earned his first Nationwide Tour title at the Henrico County Open and regained his PGA Tour card for 2007.
"I've really got to say the credit would be in finding an instructor, Chris O'Connell," Kuchar said of the single most significant factor that helped him resurrect his golfing career. "He really helped rebuild my game.
"We started working and he's turned me into the golfer I am today. I've become so much more consistent of a player. I was good in my younger days but streaky. I could be really good for a while and then struggle.
"And now I feel like I'm a golfer that can hit quality shots week-in and week-out, day-in and day-out. So I owe a lot of credit to Chris O'Connell."
After returning to the PGA Tour, Kuchar recorded two top-10 finishes during the 2007 season, including a tie for third at the AT&T Classic, and he improved on that the following year with a further five top-10s and total earnings of $1,447,638.
In 2009, he clinched his second PGA Tour title in a playoff with Vaughn Taylor for the Turning Stone Resort Championship and he has not looked back since.
"Having gone seven years between wins, I understand and appreciate the effort that goes into it and the challenge and climb you have to make to get back to that winner's circle," the soft-spoken Kuchar said.
"So I absolutely think the wins are more special because of the hard times."
Kuchar has since gone on to win the lucrative Barclays tournament in 2010 and the Players Championship, widely regarded as the unofficial "fifth" major, last year.
He underscored his consistency at the highest level of the game by setting a PGA Tour record in 2011 with earnings of $4,233,920 for the season without winning a tournament and has twice represented his country against Europe at the Ryder Cup.
On Sunday at Dove Mountain, Kuchar emerged triumphant at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship to claim his first World Golf Championships (WGC) crown.
"To come out on top after six matches of playing guys, the top 64 guys in the world, it's an incredible feeling," the 34-year-old smiled. "I'm not sure I can explain how excited I am to have won this tournament." (Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by Frank Pingue)