Matt Kuchar and Camilo Villegas turned back the clock at the World Wide Technology Championship. The accomplished forty-something pros shared the 54-hole lead at El Cardonal at Diamante, creating new memories for old fans. It appeared for much of the weekend that one of them would hoist the title and snap a lengthy victory drought.
Yet they’ll depart Mexico with wistfulness, sharing second place at 25 under, at the receiving end of Erik van Rooyen’s final-nine 28 (punctuated by a closing eagle) for a two-stroke victory.
Kuchar hasn’t won on TOUR since 2019; Villegas’ drought dates to 2014. Each held the solo lead at one point Sunday – Villegas was 4 under through six; Kuchar led by himself with just two holes remaining. This week marked the first TOUR event to be played at a Tiger Woods design, so perhaps it was fitting that two of Woods’ contemporaries jockeyed for the title through the weekend.
Van Rooyen snatched the title at the end – an emotional victory, dedicated to close friend and college teammate Jon Trasamar who is battling cancer – but Kuchar and Villegas can cultivate confidence that they’re not done adding to their trophy cabinets. They’ve also improved their scheduling prospects as well. Kuchar moved from No. 66 to No. 52 on the FedExCup Fall standings; Nos. 51-60 after The RSM Classic will earn spots in next spring’s AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am and The Genesis Invitational. Villegas moves from No. 223 to No. 147 on the FedExCup Fall standings, a massive boost as he aims to improve upon his Past Champion status. (The top 125 after The RSM Classic will earn TOUR exempt status in 2024; Nos. 126-150 earn a spot in a conditional category that ranks higher than Villegas’ current Past Champion category.)
“A lot of positives this week,” Villegas said afterward. “Man, it’s been a long few years, a lot of work. This year has been a grind just technically working with my new instructor, working with a new mental coach and getting a little bit older. But I don’t want to stop playing, man. I love playing. You never know, you never know. You keep waiting for the results to come and you keep grinding and you keep grinding.”
“I think as anybody knows, you never know when you wake up the next morning if golf will still be there for you,” Kuchar added. “I’ve felt good now for a while. I felt like this is kind of the best ownership I’ve had of my golf swing and kind of what I’m doing with the golf ball. Held steady all week. A good solid week of golf for me.”
The two veterans have won FedExCup Playoffs events, competed in international team competitions and combined for approximately $80 million in PGA TOUR earnings. They’ve both featured in the top 10 on the Official World Golf Ranking and have identifiable traits that connect them with fans – think Villegas’ long-used Spider-Man green-reading technique, or Kuchar’s daffy grin. But they’re not done striving to compete at the highest level or make new memories, as they proved this week.
Villegas has investigated the media side of the business – he worked as a Golf Channel analyst at the Wyndham Championship in August (the site of his last TOUR win in 2014). That doesn’t mean, though, that he’s willing to cede his time inside the ropes. He made 18 Korn Ferry Tour starts this season in addition to 11 TOUR starts so far, and he had signed up to play Second Stage of PGA TOUR Q-School presented by Korn Ferry later this month.
Other good news from Villegas’ runner-up at El Cardonal: The top 40 available applicants outside the top 125 on the FedExCup Fall standings will advance directly to Final Stage of Q-School. Having jumped 76 spots to No. 147, he has essentially earned the right to bypass Second Stage.
The week in Mexico won’t conclude, though, without lament. Kuchar led by six strokes upon reaching the 15th tee in Saturday’s third round, then pulled his tee shot into dense bushes and made a quadruple bogey. He followed with a bogey-par-par finish, falling into a share of the 54-hole lead with Villegas. Kuchar rebounded with a bogey-free 66 on Sunday, but it wasn’t enough to withstand van Rooyen’s closing flurry.
Villegas held the 36-hole lead with rounds of 64-64, and his third-round 69 kept a share of the lead into the final round. Then with four birdies in his first six holes Sunday, it looked like it could be his day indeed. But he followed that hot start with 10 consecutive pars, not enough amidst benign Cabo conditions. He finished birdie-birdie, but again it wasn’t enough.
Not the desired outcome, but a week worth remembering – and perhaps a spark to bigger things.
“I think I played 71 really good holes. It kind of turns out to be the difference, you need to play 72 good holes out here,” Kuchar said. “I’m pretty bummed. You come out with a great chance to win a golf tournament and the goal is to win a golf tournament. But I hold my head held high. Erik played incredible golf.”
“I’m proud of the way I battled today, I’m proud of the way I played all week and I’m proud of just the time and work I’ve been putting into the game,” Villegas said. “Come next Thursday, we start from zero again. You take this performance, you analyze them, try to take the good stuff, learn from it and keep plugging.”