Matt Kuchar’s trips Down Under have been few and far between since making his professional debut at the 2000 Australian Open. Three years later, he returned for his honeymoon on Lizard Island on the Great Barrier Reef.
Kuchar is back for the Australian Open at The Lakes and next week’s Presidents Cup at Royal Melbourne and he’s got company -- his wife, Sybi, their two sons, Kuchar’s parents and his in-laws. The family tour stopped in Bora Bora on the way over from the U.S. and spent a few days at the famed Cape Kidnappers course in New Zealand.
The Australian Open, first staged in 1904, is Australia's most prestigious golf tournament. Geoff Ogilvy is the defending champion.
Kuchar said “it’s a great way to get back in the game, have a couple of weeks off, then a little bit of a warmup.”
Although Kuchar has earned $9 million over the past two years, he’s winless this year. He’s among a strong American contingent this week: eight of the 12 U.S. team members for the Presidents Cup are in the Australian Open field.
Kuchar finished tied for second in the Memorial and was second in The Barclays.
“It’s been a bit frustrating,” Kuchar said Wednesday. “I played a great final round at the Memorial, but Steve Stricker just played even better. I just had a few opportunities that didn’t go my way.”
Meanwhile, Adam Scott took five weeks off after the PGA Tour season ended, including a week surfing in Mexico with some mates from Australia. Before he played at the WGC-HSBC Champions event last week in Shanghai, he left his family’s home in Queensland state to make a reconnaissance mission to Royal Melbourne, site of next week’s Presidents Cup.
“I felt the changes that had been made to the grasses at Royal Melbourne -- it had been six years since I’d played there -- that it would be a good idea to have a sneak peek,” Scott said. “It will be hard to take it all in next week with all the distractions.”
The Royal Melbourne Composite Course will feature new grass on the greens.
“It’s a different grass to when I was last there -- it’s still couch, but it’s a bit slower,” said Scott, who tried not to “step on too many members’ toes” as he negotiated around the composite course on a Sunday.
The Australian Open, with next week’s Presidents Cup as the drawing card, has its best international field in decades, harkening back to the days when Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Arnold Palmer traveled Down Under for the championship.
The featured groups over the first two days help highlight it -- four consecutive morning threesomes have defending champion Geoff Ogilvy and Americans Bill Haas and Bubba Watson, followed by International Captain Greg Norman, Dustin Johnson and two-time former champion Aaron Baddeley. U.S. Captain Fred Couples is in the following group, followed by another which includes U.S. team member David Toms.
In the afternoon, Kuchar and Scott, who could play each other in next week’s Presidents Cup, lead the featured groups off at midday, followed by the trio of Tiger Woods, Jason Day and Robert Allenby. Stuart Appleby and American Nick Watney are in the next group, followed by one which includes Hunter Mahan and John Daly.
It will be the 23-year-old Day’s first time playing in a group with the 35-year-old Woods, but there’s plenty of history from Day’s side.
“I read a book about Tiger and that is why I woke up every morning at 5.30 and went out and practiced,” Day said. “I got up to 32 1/2 hours a week of practice because of that guy. He has influenced my life a lot, and I have always wanted to play against him.”
Day says he’ll try not to be intimidated.
“No, I don’t think so,” he said “I can’t control what he does. All I can do is control what I do. Looking back, 1997 to 2008 or 2009, he dominated for so long. When he came in he changed the way everyone looked at golf.”
Adam Scott has some advice for his younger Presidents Cup teammate: Don’t look.
“I never watched him hit a shot,” Scott said Wednesday. “My old coach Butch Harmon told me early on when he was still working with him, if you played with him you should not watch him hit a shot because in the early 2000s his golf ball was launching far faster than anyone else. We all saw the magnificent highlight reels he’s got. It was better not to watch and feel like you can’t match it.”