Back in the winner’s circle after four long years

Matt Kuchar wins at Mayakoba

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Back in the winner's circle after four long years. (Getty Images)

Matt Kuchar bogeys the 14th and 15th holes but makes three clutch pars coming in for a final-round 69 and a one-shot victory over Danny Lee (65) at the Mayakoba Golf Classic.

Welcome to the Monday Finish, where Kuchar, trying to break a win drought of 4 1/2 years, made a crucial two-putt par at the 18th hole to pick up his eighth PGA TOUR victory and go to fifth in the FedExCup. He also broke the tournament record at 22 under.

FIVE OBSERVATIONS

1. Kuchar’s seasoning paid off. It would have been easy to get psyched out by his four-shot lead, but after competing all around the world, making Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup teams, earning a bronze medal in the 2016 Olympics, and winning THE PLAYERS Championship among his seven previous TOUR titles, Kuchar was under no illusions. “I know the deal,” he said Saturday night. “I can’t just stop making birdies and expect to win.” He was right. Had he shot an even-par 71 he would have lost to Lee by one.

2. It was the Year of the Comeback in 2018. Kuchar broke a win drought that went back 4 1/2 years and 116 starts to the 2014 RBC Heritage, and was only the latest player to revive his career. Phil Mickelson, Jason Day, Rory McIlroy, Gary Woodland, Kevin Na and Tiger Woods were among those who had gone winless for a year or in some cases much longer before hoisting a trophy again in the 2018 calendar year. “It’s an amazing feeling to win a PGA TOUR event,” Kuchar said, echoing an oft-repeated refrain this year. “It’s a hard thing to do.”

3. Mayakoba illustrated “horses for courses” axiom. Past champions Pat Perez (T6), Brian Gay (T41) and Patton Kizzire (T55) all spent time up around the lead before 2008 winner Gay and defending champion Kizzire fell back on the weekend. Perez, who won in 2017, never wavered as he shot 66-67-67-67 to move from 41st to 25th in the FedExCup.

4. Cameron Champ looks like a superstar. The long-hitting Champ didn’t win, thanks largely to unusually poor finishes in his weekend rounds, but at 16-under he still finished T10. And after winning the Sanderson Farms Championship and contending again at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open before falling back with a final-round 73, he looks capable of contending every time he tees it up. “He’s hugely impressive,” Kuchar said after playing with Champ in the third round, which Champ ended with a double-bogey to go from four to six back. “It looks like effortless power. He looks like a really consistent, good swinger of the golf club. He’s going to do damage out here. I think he’s going to be kind of the future of the game of golf.”

5. Mayakoba could still be punishing. Although there were multiple 62s (Cameron Champ, Round 2; Scott Piercy, Round 4) and plenty of low scores, El Camaleon could still be a beast for those who suffered an off-day or even one bad hole. Freddie Jacobson, coming back from an injury, made a 10 on the way to a 76 in the first round. Jonas Blixt went 63-76 in the second and third rounds, respectively. And last year’s runner-up Rickie Fowler (T16) made plenty of birdies but simply couldn’t keep the bogeys off his card.

FIVE INSIGHTS

1. Kuchar was ultra-reliable off the tee, the most critical stat at Mayakoba, to pick up his 99th top-10 finish on the PGA TOUR. He was 45/56 in fairways hit, third best in the field. He was also 57/72 in Greens in Regulation (T9); and averaged 27.8 putts per round (T21).

2. The winner made 26 birdies and four bogeys, and became the fourth player in his 40s to win this calendar year, following Phil Mickelson (World Golf Championships-Mexico Championship, 47), Ian Poulter (Houston Open, 42) and Tiger Woods (TOUR Championship, 42).

3. In his 428th TOUR start, Kuchar set 36-, 54- and 72-hole tournament records, ultimately finishing 22 under. That was also the best four-round total of his career. The victory came in his 116th start since his last TOUR win (2014 RBC Heritage).

4. This was runner-up Danny Lee’s best result since he won the 2015 A Military Tribute at the Greenbrier. It was his second runner-up (T2/2015 TOUR Championship). He hit 39/56 fairways (T16), was 52/72 in Greens in Regulation (T27), and took 26.5 putts per round (T4).

5. J.J. Spaun (66, T3) posted his third straight top-15 finish after a T10 (THE CJ CUP @ NINE BRIDGES) and T15 (Shriners Hospitals for Children Open). His solo second at the 2017 The RSM Classic remains his best finish. Richy Werenski (67, T3) enjoyed his best finish in four starts this season, and best since a T2 finish at the Barbasol Championship last season. A playoff loss at the 2017 Barracuda Championship remains his best finish in 63 starts on TOUR.

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