It had been almost five years since Matt Kuchar’s most recent PGA TOUR victory when the 40-year-old won the Mayakoba Golf Classic last November. After rediscovering the winning touch for his eighth career title, he didn’t wait long to lift another trophy, at the Sony Open in Hawaii in January.
Those two victories—along with more of the trademark consistency that Kuchar carried even during his winless stretch—put him in great shape in the FedExCup standings as the season moved into late May.
Kuchar’s two wins, plus five additional top-10 finishes, helped place the Florida native No. 1 in the points race through the conclusion of the PGA Championship. Kuchar had 2,110 points, followed by the rest of the top 10: Brooks Koepka (1,856), Xander Schauffele (1,615), Rory McIlroy (1,612), Dustin Johnson (1,572), Paul Casey (1,398), Rickie Fowler (1,219), Gary Woodland (1,182), Jon Rahm (1,136) and Charles Howell III (1,100). Defending FedExCup Champion Justin Rose, seeking to become the first Champion to successfully repeat, was just a bit further behind in 11th place. An added incentive this season is the Wyndham Rewards Top 10 prize bonus pool designed to reward the top-10 performers of the FedExCup Regular Season, who will share a $10,000,000 prize pool.
Of the top 10, all but Woodland had won at least once in 2018-19 and everyone had at least four top-10 finishes.
“I’m tickled—thrilled—to have won two events this early in the year,” Kuchar said following his victory at the Sony Open in Hawaii. “To have won two out of three starts on the PGA TOUR is mind boggling to me. [It] absolutely sets up the year to be in great position for the FedExCup. There is a lot of year left, and a lot of great things that are out there to be done.”
Kuchar’s success came after he ended the previous season on a down note, failing to advance to the BMW Championhip in the FedExCup Playoffs and not qualifying for the United States Ryder Cup team. “I was definitely disappointed, frustrated,” Kuchar said. There were some big things that I missed out on. I didn’t ever give up hope. I think the frustrating thing was I felt like I was doing some good things and just not seeing results. That sometimes is hard to take, when you think you’re on the right course and not seeing the results. [Wife] Sybi has been great at helping me stick the course. And Chris [instructor Chris O’Connell] has been great.”
Given the talent of those players in close pursuit of the No. 1 FedExCup spot, Kuchar will need to keep up his good play through the summer.
Koepka and Schauffele joined Kuchar as multiple winners heading into the Charles Schwab Challenge at historic Colonial Country Club.
Winner at THE CJ CUP @ NINE BRIDGES, Koepka successfully defended his title at the PGA Championship played on the brawny Black Course at Bethpage State Park. Having also won the U.S. Open two consecutive years, Koepka is in extremely rare air for concentrated major-championship success.
“It’s been so much fun these last two years,” Koepka said after the final round at Bethpage, where Dustin Johnson made it close over the last nine holes after Koepka took a seven-stroke lead through 54 holes. “It’s incredible. I don’t think I even thought I was going to do it that fast. I don’t think anybody did, and to be standing here today with four majors, it’s mind-blowing. Today was definitely the most satisfying out of all of them for how stressful that round was—how stressful DJ made that. I know for a fact, that was the most excited I’ve ever been in my life ever there on 18.”
It was no surprise that Johnson was the one applying heat on his friend and rival. Johnson has been in the mix often this season, including a T5 at THE PLAYERS and T2 at the Masters. By winning the World Golf Championships-Mexico Championship, Johnson became only the 38th player in PGA TOUR history to reach 20 or more career victories. As proof of his place in the current era, Johnson is the first player born after 1980 to reach 20 victories.
Like Kuchar, Schauffele got off to a hot start early this season, winning the World Golf Championships-HSBC Championship in China then taking the trophy at the Sentry Tournament of Champions in January. Schauffele is still getting used to being one of the best in the game.
“I just still feel like an underdog,” Schauffele said after his second win of the season. “I feel like until you’re No. 1, you’re chasing. So guys like Bryson [DeChambeau] and Justin [Thomas] … JT’s put together a ton of good years. Brooks has been crushing it. So they keep putting that flag way out there for me to go and chase, and I feel like that’s what I’ve been doing.”
As the action during the first part of the season proved, wherever the bar is set, a wave of talent on the PGA TOUR is eager to excel. Things will shake out in August, with THE NORTHERN TRUST and BMW Championship Playoff events leading into a revamped play-for-everything TOUR Championship at East Lake Golf Club.
The TOUR Championship will have a new feel, but familiar faces will have a big say in the outcome as an action-packed season comes to close.
This article first appeared in the PGA TOUR June-November 2019 issue, which can be read here.
See also: Justin Rose at the FedExCup