Recap of the day
Morning wave: A real birdie-fest with Matt Kuchar eventually finishing the early wave on top of the pile with a 7-under 64. That was later matched by Kramer Hickok while a 10-man log-jam at 6-under featured Gary Woodland, Kevin Chappell and local hero Abraham Ancer.
Afternoon wave: With conditions still pleasant, the p.m. starters helped themselves too. Dominic Bozzelli made a string of late birdies to add a third 64 while defending champion Patton Kizzire had back-to-back eagles at 5 and 6 as he played Nos. 4-7 in 6-under after a double bogey at 3! It all added up to the 14th 65 of the day.
Leaderboard: -7 Matt Kuchar, Kramer Hickok, Dominic Bozzelli, -6 Anirban Lahiri, Richy Werenski, Bud Cauley, Abraham Ancer, Emiliano Grillo, Adam Hadwin, Gary Woodland, Kevin Chappell, J.T. Poston, Sung Kang, Harold Varner III, Stephan Jaeger, Danny Lee, Patton Kizzire, Matt Jones.
Friday weather forecast
Temperatures open at a very pleasant 75 degrees for the very early starters and move toward 90 from 10am and stay there. Along with the sunshine, winds are light so scoring should be low again.
Leaders after 18 holes
Matt Kuchar (64) – Very tidy. 12 (of 14) fairways, 15 greens in regulation and 100% scrambling. Kuchar, playing the Mayakoba for just the fourth time, shot a 64 here once before, that Saturday lap helping him to third place in 2008.
Kramer Hickok (64) – His lowest 18 on the PGA Tour by two shots although this is just his eight start at this level. The Texas Longhorn missed just two GIRs in his bogey-free morning round.
Dominic Bozzelli (64) – A run of four straight birdies on his back nine and a pair of closing pars made it a three-way tie. Hit just 12 greens but hot short game (six successful scrambles) and putter (1.417 Putts Per GIR). T41 in Vegas last week ended a run of six missed cuts.
Fate of the favorites
Rickie Fowler (65) – Runner-up on his debut here last year with 65-67-67-67, Fowler matched last year’s opener by trading six birdies with a lone bogey. Hit just half the fairways but found 15 greens in the right number.
Tony Finau (69) – Not the sparkle we’ve come to expect from Finau, who was R1 leader here in 2014. Just three birdies after hitting 15 greens in the right number.
Jordan Spieth (71) – All still not well in the house of Jordan. After fading to T55 in Vegas last week, Spieth was 2-under thru’ 8 and then had to settle for evens on a day when well over half the field broke par. Five bogeys.
Road to victory at El Camaleon
2017 Patton Kizzire – R1: 1st, R2: 1st, R3: 1st
2016 Pat Perez – R1: 20th, R2: 11th, R3: 2nd
2015 Graeme McDowell – R1: 10th, R2: 1st, R3: 3rd
2014 Charley Hoffman – R1: 7th, R2: 9th, R3: 3rd
2013 Harris English – R1: 17th, R2: 1st, R3: 2nd
Notes: Kizzire went wire-to-wire last year but a fast start isn’t imperative. Both Perez and English were five shots off the lead before going on to win. Good news for Finau.
Fate of the R1 leaders at El Camaleon
2017 Patton Kizzire 1st
2016 Chris Kirk 7th
2013 Robert Karlsson 6th
Notes: The only first-round leaders to convert both opened with 62s! That was Kizzire last year and Fred Funk in the inaugural edition in 2007 when also leading all four days. A different take is that a fast start guarantees nothing with seven of the last 12 who held a piece of the leading finishing outside the top 20.
Focus on – Matt Kuchar
With 98 to his name, Kuchar has been a top ten machine for many years on the PGA TOUR. Counting back from the 2016/17 season, the Georgie Tech alum’s top ten count reads: 9-10-7-11-8-9-9-11. Average = 9.25. It was great for bank balance, world ranking and FedEx Cup points count but Kuchar lacked the defining career moment. It so nearly came in the 2017 Open at Royal Birkdale when only a freakish finish from Jordan Spieth denied him a first major. No matter. Kuchar is as level-headed as they come. He’d bounce back. However, for now, it represents a peak. While the top tens kept coming for a while post-Birkdale, he managed just four last season, his lowest number since 2007 when he briefly dropped outside the world’s top 200. Kuchar’s last top ten came at the 2018 Open, meaning he hasn’t had one in a regular PGA Tour event since early April’s Shell Houston Open. After shooting his lowest first round since February 2017 (Waste Management Phoenix Open where he finished T9), this is a great chance for the 40-year-old to get back into the top ten groove which gamers love.
Focus on – Patton Kizzire
When Kizzire won this event 12 months ago and followed it with a quick follow-up victory just three starts later at the Sony Open, he rose to 54th in the world rankings. Another border crossing soon after gave him T12 in March’s WGC-Mexico Championship and bumped that ranking to 51st. Since then? Nine missed cuts in 20 starts and not a single top 20. While T23 in the CJ CUP in South Korea hinted at something better, a 76-80 weekend finish in the WGC-HSBC Champions in China seemed to represent another step back. Perhaps he just needed a return to the scene of his first win. Slow starts have killed him for a long time (broken 70 in R1 just twice in 19 events) so today’s 65 was most welcome. His lowest opener since…. he fired 62 in round one here last year.