Kuchar finds way­ward shot, keeps 2-shot lead

The Charlotte Observer - - Front Page - As­so­ci­ated Press

Matt Kuchar knew he was in trou­ble when his tee shot sailed so far to the right that he hit a pro­vi­sional in case the ball was out-of-bounds.

He found the ball, and some­how never lost the lead.

Kuchar es­caped his only big mess Fri­day with a 35-foot bo­gey putt on the 12th hole, and he rode eight birdies to a 7-un­der 64 that gave him a twoshot lead over PGA Tour rookie Cameron Champ go­ing into the week­end at the Mayakoba Golf Clas­sic.

Champ, go­ing af­ter his sec­ond vic­tory in three weeks, played in the morn­ing and shot 62 with a bo­gey on his fi­nal hole.

Kuchar was at 14-un­der 128 as he tries to end more than four years with­out a PGA Tour vic­tory.

“Yes­ter­day was kind of a bo­gey-free day and just easy, and ev­ery­thing else to­day was about the same,” he said. “I just had that one chal­leng­ing hole.”

The chal­lenge was fig­ur­ing out what to do once he found it.

The ball was un­der a clus­ter of trees and bushes with rocks scat­tered ev­ery­where. Even tak­ing a one-shot penalty for an un­playable lie was not an easy op­tion. If his drop set­tled be­tween rocks, he would have to play that or take an­other penalty.

Fi­nally, he found a spot and the drop landed in enough soft soil for him to pitch out of trou­ble, through the fair­way and into the rough. He got his fourth shot onto the green and made the long putt to es­cape with bo­gey.

“That was great,” Kuchar said. “I knew I had a par 5 fol­low­ing it, and I fig­ured I was prob­a­bly go­ing to make dou­ble there and birdie on the next. I ended up mak­ing bo­gey there and par on the par- 5 13th, so still felt like I was very much in con­trol.”

What put Kuchar in good shape were the five straight birdies on the front nine, and then he took the lead for the first time with a birdie on No. 11 be­fore his wild ad­ven­ture on the 12th hole.

Champ al­ready is the talk of the tour for the speed of his swing and how far he hits the ball, though there is more to his game than length. El Ca­ma­leon Golf Club is all about lo­ca­tion – prefer­ably the fair­way – more than smash­ing it as far as pos­si­ble.

Two weeks af­ter win­ning the San­der­son Farms Cham­pi­onship in Mis­sis­sippi, he worked on a few tweaks in his swing and was in full con­trol of where the ball was go­ing. For the sec­ond straight day, Champ missed only two fair­ways, key to good scor­ing at Mayakoba.

“It’s not a bomber’s course,” Champ said. “You have to place it off the tee, and some holes the rough is very thick and you’ve just got to whack it out. This course I feel like is very suit­able for ev­ery­one. Just to be able to place my ball right in the fair­ways and on the greens and make the putts when I needed is great.”

An area renowned for its wild weather – rain out of nowhere, wind – has seen sun­shine and calms for two days, and it’s re­flected in the scor­ing.

The cut was at 4-un­der 138. The week­end will not in­clude Jor­dan Spi­eth. The three-time ma­jor cham­pion missed the cut in his fi­nal event of the year af­ter a 69. Spi­eth will have the week­end off for the sev­enth time this year. Next up is his wed­ding over Thanks­giv­ing week­end.

Kuchar, mean­while, has more than Champ to worry about the next two rounds. The seven play­ers at 11-un­der 131 in­cluded de­fend­ing cham­pion Pat­ton Kizzire, past Mayakoba cham­pion Brian Gay and Anir­ban Lahiri of In­dia, who has played in the last two Pres­i­dents Cups. Eigh­teen play­ers were within five shots of the lead.

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