November 11, 2018
By Cameron Morfit
Matt Kuchar survived some shaky play down the stretch and rattled in a par putt from just inside three feet on 18 to shoot a final-round 69 for a one-stroke victory over Danny Lee (65) at the Mayakoba Golf Classic on Sunday.
J.J. Spaun (66) and Richy Werenski (67) tied for third, three back.
“It feels extra sweet having kind of had to suffer through a year of not playing great in 2018,” said Kuchar, whose last victory before today came at the 2014 RBC Heritage in Hilton Head, South Carolina. “Being four years removed since my last victory I realize how difficult it is to win on the PGA TOUR.”
With the win, Kuchar earned a spot in a handful of prestigious tournaments, first on the calendar being the Sentry Tournament of Champions in January.
With his regular caddie, John Wood, at a reunion, Kuchar won with a club caddie, David “Toucan” Ortiz, who had been assigned to him by the tournament director. Ortiz, a father of two from Playa del Carmen who caddies every day at El Camaleon Golf Club, was in tears as he accepted congratulations and rolled up the flag on 18 as a souvenir.
Although he went into Sunday with a four-shot lead, and kept a nice cushion for much of the day, Kuchar bogeyed the 14th and 15th holes, missing putts inside 10 and 5 feet, respectively, to make it close. With Lee on his heels, he closed with three pars to win.
The last one might have been the hardest. With mud on the back of his ball, which sat on the front fringe, he wasn’t sure how hard to hit it. He guessed mostly right, and the ball rolled to a stop nearly three feet short. It was a straight putt, but felt like a very long three feet.
“I certainly made it exciting coming in,” said Kuchar, who moves to fifth in the FedExCup. “It wasn’t the finish I was hoping for; I would have liked to have been able to five- or six-putt that final green. Winning out here is so difficult. The strength of field every week is awfully good.”
This week marked a return to form for a player who was used to being in the upper echelon but had fallen off. Kuchar was 76th in the FedExCup last season after being in the top 20 for eight straight years. He missed cuts, which he said was “not in my vocabulary” and “extremely frustrating.” He missed the TOUR Championship. He turned 40.
All of which led to some big questions.
Could he win in his 40s, like Fred Funk, the 2007 winner here? Could he reel off multiple wins, like Vijay Singh? Could he reach 10 or even 15, or was all of that wishful thinking?
Kuchar imagined hoisting more trophies, but also couldn’t be sure he wasn’t done winning.
“I’ve thought the other side,” he said. “I’ve thought, man, kids are getting younger and stronger and it’s more and more challenging for a guy that plays my style of golf to win and win multiple times.”
He came to Mayakoba without knowing exactly where his game was. He’d worked hard with his instructor, Chris O’Connell, leading into his only other start of this season, the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open in Las Vegas, but finished T57. He was hitting the ball well, but not scoring.
He did both in Mexico, where he stayed in a casita on the beach with his wife, Sybi, and their two sons, Cameron, 11, and Carson, 9. Kuchar shot 64-64-65 over the first three rounds, leaving no doubt as to the state of his game. Even with his relatively ho-hum 69 on Sunday he broke the tournament record at 22-under and broke a win drought of four and a half years.
It was also his best 72-hole score on TOUR.
After wiggling in that final three-footer, he hugged his caddie, Ortiz, tossed his putter to the turf and embraced his sons. He kissed Sybi, who caddied for four holes in the first round after Kuchar’s playing partner Zach Johnson lost his caddie, Damon Green, to illness (heat).
The family savored the moment together.
“My kids have now gotten into it,” Kuchar said. “And so we do a lot of kind of family afternoon time on the golf course. It’s really been kind of one of those great, you know, father-son and even the whole family, even Sybi will come along and we’ll cram four people in a cart and just go out and play nine holes or six holes or four holes, whatever we have time for.
“I’ve really enjoyed those sessions,” he added. “My life has evolved. I used to only go out and be by myself or with a competitive match, and now having some kids to bring along, it’s really been rewarding. Fun times for me on the golf course.”
He still wants to win a major, and to play on the U.S. Presidents Cup next year. He even spoke of potentially reeling off multiple victories in 2019. First, though, Kuchar was headed to this week’s Australian Open, followed by the World Cup. His season of frustration, the doubts about his future, the existential angst of a milestone birthday—all of it had been wiped away.[av_hr class=’default’ height=’50’ shadow=’no-shadow’ position=’center’ custom_border=’av-border-thin’ custom_width=’50px’ custom_border_color=” custom_margin_top=’30px’ custom_margin_bottom=’30px’ icon_select=’yes’ custom_icon_color=” icon=’ue808′ font=’entypo-fontello’ admin_preview_bg=” av_uid=’av-31icsa’]
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