HONOLULU (AFP) - Eighth-ranked Matt Kuchar tees off alongside two 2013 major winners when the US$5.6 million (S$7.1 million) Sony Open in Hawaii starts on Thursday and hopes to become a major champion himself in 2014.
The 35-year-old American will be joined by world number two Adam Scott, the reigning Masters champion from Australia, and 13th-ranked Jason Dufner, the 2013 PGA Championship winner, in the first two rounds at Waialae Country Club.
But Kuchar is coming off a year where he won twice for the first time in his career, taking the World Golf Championships Match Play title and the Memorial, and shared eighth at the Masters after his best major finish, a share of third, at Augusta National the year before.
"I feel like my game is at a point where I definitely can be a guy that can win a Major Championship," Kuchar said.
"I feel like I've made strides in my game. I feel like I'm steady enough. I'm consistent enough. I feel like I've got good tools to win a major." Entering this year, 12 of the past 15 majors have been won by first-time major champions and Kuchar's name is among those often mentioned to continue that run of first-timer success.
"I certainly am happy to be part of that conversation," Kuchar said.
"I'm looking forward to the majors this year, looking forward to having a chance to win and hopefully put my name on one of those," Kuchar said.
"If you get a chance to mark your name down in history, winning a major championship, it goes down in the history books forever. That's what we all aspire to." Kuchar says success in regular tour events such as this week's stop in Honolulu, the first US full-field event of 2014, are critical to building confidence for his major title bid.
"I try to approach all the events just as big," Kuchar said. "I try to come out to this week's Sony Open not to just kind of get warmed up, I come out here to win this event." Kuchar has six wins over 11 seasons, the biggest being the 2012 Players Championship.
Scott and Kuchar shared sixth at last week's Tournament of Champions while Dufner shared fifth behind Zach Johnson, whose victory nudged him past Kuchar to seventh in the world rankings.
But Johnson will be bucking history to win this week. Only South African Ernie Els, in 2003, has won the US PGA Hawaii double in the same year.
Johnson, the 2009 Sony Open winner, will play the first two rounds alongside South Africa's Tim Clark and South Korean K.J. Choi, the 2008 event winner.
Chinese amateurs Guan Tianlang and Liu Yanwei are both playing on sponsor exemptions in the first full-field US event of 2014. Guan played in last year's Masters at age 14 and was the tournament's low amateur.
Russell Henley won the US$1 million top prize last year and the 24-year-old American hopes to duplicate his form of last January, only weeks after qualifying for his first US PGA season.
Henley fired a 72-hole score of 24-under par 256, second-lowest in US PGA Tour history, and finished with five birdies in a row to beat Clark by three strokes.
Henley will be paired in the first two rounds with two rising young stars, US 20-year-old Jordan Spieth and Japan's 21-year-old Hideki Matsuyama.
Spieth, the 2013 US PGA Rookie of the Year, was the runner-up last week while Matsuyama opened the 2013-14 season with a third-place effort at the Frys.com Open.