Kuchar starts strong in potential bounce-back season

  • PLAYA DEL CARMEN, Mexico – Notes and observations from the first round of the Mayakoba Golf Classic at El Camaleon Golf Club. 

    LEADING LIGHTS

    KUCHAR BOUNCES BACK. A little over a year ago, Matt Kuchar razzed Phil Mickelson for being the only member of the U.S. Presidents Cup team not to make the TOUR Championship.

    Last season Kuchar didn’t make it.

    Hoping to bounce back from a lackluster 2017-’18, Kuchar made seven birdies and no bogeys for an opening-round 64. He was tied for the first-round lead with fellow morning finisher Kramer Hickok and the class of the afternoon wave, Dominic Bozzelli. 

    “If you’re not driving it well, this course is extremely hard,” said Kuchar, who is using a local caddie this week while his usual caddie, John Wood, attends a reunion. “If you’re driving it well, you can make some birdies, which I was able to do today.”

    Kuchar, 40, had racked up 94 career top-10 finishes before last season, so it was odd to see him largely absent from the upper echelon of PGA TOUR pros. He had just four more top-10s in 24 starts last season, and was 64th in the FedExCup, his lowest finish since 2009.

    He began this season with more of the same. His lackluster T57 at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open in Las Vegas last week was his only other start before this week.

    “Just struggled to get the ball in the hole,” said Kuchar, whose seven TOUR wins include THE PLAYERS Championship in 2012. “Struggled to execute on a few occasions. My couple practice rounds (at Mayakoba) Tuesday, Wednesday, felt really good, driving the ball well.”

    Kuchar hit 12 of 14 fairways, 15 of 18 greens, and took 25 putts.

    Dominic Bozzelli birdies fourth straight at Mayakoba

    NOTABLES

    SPIETH STRUGGLES. On a day when 18 players shot 65 or better, Spieth spun his wheels. Making his first start at Mayakoba, he made four birdies and four bogeys for an even-par 71. Spieth hit just six of 14 fairways, and 10 greens in regulation. He took 28 putts. 

    FINAU WELL BACK. Tony Finau, 9th in the FedExCup, shot a quiet 2-under 69. He hit just six of 14 fairways, same as Spieth, and struggled more on the greens with 31 putts.

    JOHNSON SALVAGES 71. Zach Johnson’s caddie, Damon Green, overheated and had to be carted off the course and given an IV drip after just 14 holes. Sybi Kuchar, wife of co-leader Matt, took over the bag as Johnson, who started on the back nine, rallied with an eagle at the par-5 seventh hole to card an even-par 71. For more on Johnson’s caddie situation, click here.

    KIZZIRE BACK AT IT. Other than two early wins, Patton Kizzire struggled for much of last season, barely making it into the season-ending TOUR Championship. But the defending champ was back at with a 65 at Mayakoba. “I don’t know; I like it here,” said Kizzire, who made two straight eagles on the front nine, the second coming when he holed out with a gap wedge at the par-4 sixth hole. “The beach, the hotels, the golf course, it all just kind of fits.”

    Jordan Spieth nearly chips in for eagle at Mayakoba

    OBSERVATIONS

    INTERNATIONALS START FAST. It was a good day for potential members of the 2019 International Presidents Cup Team. Mexico’s Abraham Ancer, India’s Anirban Lahiri, Argentina’s Emiliano Grillo, Canada’s Adam Hadwin and Korea’s Sung Kang all shot 65 and were just one off the early lead. Chile’s Joaquin Niemann and Korea’s Sungjae Im each shot 66.

    Lahiri, a veteran of two Presidents Cup teams, was just happy to find some form after missing the cut in two of his first three starts this season, including last week’s Shriners Hospitals for Children Open. “I found some momentum on the back nine in Vegas,” he said. “I missed the cut by one, but I shot 4-under the last seven there. I could have shot way better.”

    He finished T14 here last year. “I like paspalum,” Lahiri said. “I grew up playing on these grasses in Asia, so I feel right at home.”

    MITCHELL’S 1-2 PUNCH. The 200-yard 10th hole, the longest and arguably toughest par-3 at El Camaleon. No matter. Keith Mitchell aced the hole with his first swing of the tournament last year, and this year, after again strafing his tee shot straight at the flag, he made a 2.

    “The flag was in the back-left, and there’s a dip there so you can’t exactly see where you hit it from the tee,” Mitchell said after signing for an opening 66 that left him just two shots off the early lead. “Where we hit it was a good line; when it was in the air I was thinking about (another ace), but nobody clapped so we figured it missed.” He laughed.

    “I hate to say I was disappointed missing a 6-iron,” he added.

    GET TO KNOW … KRAMER HICKOK. The former University of Texas golfer was known as Jordan Spieth’s roommate until recently, when Spieth kicked out his housemates in preparation for married life. (He will soon wed his longtime girlfriend, Annie Verret.)

    Hickok took further steps toward forging his own identity with a 7-under 64 on Thursday.

    “We play a lot of golf together,” Hickok said of Spieth. “I’m reaching out to him when I’m home and trying to pick his brain a little bit here and there, but really just watching him play, learning from him, what he does at practice. And we have the same coach, so a lot of the things he’s doing, I’m doing.”

    Hickok was a winner on the Mackenzie Tour PGA TOUR Canada and the Web.com Tour the last two seasons. “If I can go from Canada to the Web,” he said, “I know I can do it going from the Web to this TOUR. I’m extremely excited about the progress I made, knowing that two years ago I had no status at all and now I’m on the PGA TOUR.”

    QUOTABLES

    Hang with the kids at the pool and the beach.
    – Co-leader Matt Kuchar (64), on his afternoon plans.

    I had a little momentum coming in.
    – Co-leader Kramer Hickok (64), who shot 67-67 last weekend to finish T23 at the Shriners Hospitals for Children.

    I hate to say I was disappointed missing a 6-iron.
    – Keith Mitchell (66), who birdied his first hole of the tournament, the par-3 10th, after acing it last year.

    SUPERLATIVES

    Low round: 64, Kramer Hickok, Matt Kuchar, Dominic Bozzelli

    Toughest hole: The 485-yard, par-4 16th played to a 4.167 average, with 30 bogeys compared to just 10 birdies.

    Easiest hole: The 532-yard, par-5 13th played to a 4.409 average. Seven players made eagle, 71 made birdie.

    CALL OF THE DAY

    For play-by-play coverage of the second round of the Mayakoba Golf Classic, listen at PGATOUR.COM.

    SHOT OF THE DAY

    Patton Kizzire's eagle hole out is the Shot of the Day