Mayakoba Golf Classic Preview, Picks & Analysis
MATT KUCHAR returns to defend his title at the Mayakoba Golf Classic with mixed feelings. The veteran American was coming off the back of his worst season in years and the victory represented his first in four years and was the start of a remarkable run of form.
He missed the Tour Championship in 2018 after failing to make the top 30 in the FedEx Cup standings. It meant he also missed out on the Ryder Cup, and he vowed to go away and rediscover his best form. He duly achieved that, but it later emerged that local caddie Dave Ortiz was paid a pittance for his efforts and Kuchar found himself at the centre of a storm of criticism. His regular bagman, John Wood, was at a reunion. He was accused of being mean and penny-pinching and fans began to turn on him. It wasn’t his only faux pas of what ended up being his most successful season. There was a row with Sergio Garcia at the WGC Match Play over a putt that should have been conceded, and there was also a rules infringement that caused him a world of trouble. The most surprising thing about all of this is that Kuchar is one of the most popular player among his peers, and a man who does a huge amount for charity.
Last year he survived some shaky play down the stretch but converted a three-foot putt on the 18th for a final round of 69 and a one-stroke victory over Danny Lee, who finished with a superb 65. J.J. Spaun (66) and Richy Werenski (67) tied for third, three back.
“It felt extra sweet having kind of had to suffer through a year of not playing great in 2018,” said Kuchar, whose last victory before Mayakoba came at the 2014 RBC Heritage in Hilton Head, South Carolina. “Being four years removed since my last victory I realise 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.
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. He then took to social media to reveal that Kuchar had paid him just $5,000. He initially defended the decision, saying that it was what had been agreed between the two. But after realising he had badly misjudged the situation, Kuchar eventually paid Ortiz $50,000.
Although he went into Sunday with a four-shot lead, a 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 was 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. The ball stopped three feet short and he duly holed out.
“I certainly made it exciting coming in,” said Kuchar. “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.”
Kuchar was 76th in the FedExCup in 2018 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 out on East lake and he turned 40. “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.
“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. 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 will be hoping to win again, but this time without the bitter aftertaste.
The tournament also marks the return to action of Chris Kirk for the first time in six months after a well-documented battle with alcohol and says that he doesn’t care if he shoots 60, 70 or 80.
Kirk had tried to quit in the past, but those attempts resulted in him returning to alcohol inside a couple of months. He told the PGA Tour: "For an alcoholic, if you just stop drinking on your own and do not really do anything else and just fight it every day, then everything gets worse. That was definitely the case for me. Everything spikes after that. I was in a really bad place, a much worse place mentally than when I was drinking."
Kirk says part of the problem stemmed from spending around 30 weeks on the road, leaving behind his wife and family. “My drinking was accelerated by that and maybe my fitness level and my mental capacity were probably brought down as my drinking went up," he adds. "I still was playing reasonably well, but not to the level I was a few years before that."
He stopped drinking beer when it began affecting his weight, instead moving on to wine and spirits which he says "accelerated things".
The four-time winner on the PGA Tour would not drink while competing and did not want to turn up to play "really hung over", but said he felt "weird" if he had not had anything the previous night.
"I was just fighting it and fighting it," he adds. "Finally, after a couple of relapses, if that is what you want to call it, in April it was just like, 'OK, I can't do this anymore. I have got to change something because I am going to end up with nothing’. It was when I realised I just really, truly do not have control over this, because I really wanted to not be doing it and I still was."
We all wish him well.
It was won in 2011 by Johnson Wagner, in 2012 by John Huh, in 2013 by Harris English, in 2014 by Charley Hoffman, in 2015 by Graeme McDowell, in 2016 by Pat Perez, in 2017 by Patton Kizzire, and last year by Kuchar.
Jason Day. Ready to win again
Matt Kuchar. Looking to create happier memories this year
Abraham Ancer. Hugely talented Mexican
Jason Day. Brilliant ball striker
Matt Kuchar. Mr Consistent
Abraham Ancer. Big win is long overdue
Danny Lee. Capable of beating anybody on his day
Tony Finau. Still looking for that second win
Joaquin Niemann. Has made a brilliant start to new season
Harris English. Looking to get things back on track
Grame McDowell. Continues to show some flashes of his best. Can he put four good rounds together though?
Scottie Scheffler. Massively talented youngster
Pat Perez. Past winner
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