Matthews holds lead heading into season finale in Tulum, Mexico
July 21, 2021
By Gregory Villalobos, PGATOURLA.COM
TULUM, Mexico –The PGA TOUR Latinoamérica players’ race to move up to the Korn Ferry Tour is down to one final event, set to start Thursday at PGA Riviera Maya. The season-ending Bupa Championship presented by Volvo promises to provide plenty of fireworks, with seven players still in the hunt for Player of the Year honors and 17 others still entertaining chances to move inside the Points List top five.
As the only two-time winner this campaign, Brandon Matthews enters the tournament atop the Tour standings. With 1,170 points, the 26-year old from Dupont, Pennsylvania, holds a 167-point lead over Conner Godsey, with Sam Stevens only 180 points behind.
With this week’s tournament winner claiming 500 points and the runner-up 300, Matthews, Godsey and Stevens are in control of their fates. A win by any of them would lock up the much-coveted top spot, which provides a full 2022 Korn Ferry Tour card.
“All I have to do is play the way I’ve been playing the last six months and I’ll be all right,” said Matthews when asked about his mindset heading into such an important week.
The 2020-21 PGA TOUR Latinoamérica season has been long—as in 16 months long—but it has also been short, with only eight tournaments on the schedule, a variation caused by the global pandemic. Somehow, it has been a marathon and a sprint at the same time.
“After the last year and a half, it’s nice to play a full season, even if it’s only eight events,” continued Matthews about an unpredictable season that went over the 500-day mark. “We are really thankful to be able play a season when many people haven’t had that opportunity. It’s a great place for the final event and it’s going to be a great week.”
A Robert Trent Jones Jr. design, the course at PGA Riviera Maya is a fitting challenge for an event the stature of the Bupa Championship. The tight fairways are surrounded by jungle and mangroves, which means there is little margin for error. “You have to be hitting it well this week. You can’t fake it around here, so it’s going to be fun,” added Matthews.
Only one tournament ago Godsey was trailing Matthews by 567 points, but he put on a winning performance in Quito, Ecuador, to get within striking distance. “It’s great to have an opportunity to catch Brandon. I need to have a good week, obviously, but it’s great to have a chance to do so. I’ll try to play as well as I can and see how it adds up,” said the 29-year-old Alabama native who is carrying a od momentum, with four top-six finishes in his last five starts.
Coming off his only missed cut of the year, after finishing inside the top 12 in all five of his previous starts, Stevens is another player to keep an eye on. “I didn’t do myself any favors by not playing great in Quito,” admitted the Holcim Colombia Classic champion. “I haven’t looked at (the scenarios) too closely. I just know that I need to play well. I know that if I win I’ll be all right, and hopefully I’ll give myself a chance to do that.”
Right behind the American trio, the local hopes rest on the shoulders of Alvaro Ortiz, who has collected 800 of his 838 points here in Mexico. Ortiz claimed the Points List lead with a Mexico Open win last March but missed the cut in his last two starts to slip into the fourth spot. Trailing by 332 points, in addition to a victory, he would need Matthews to finish outside the top three to make it back to the top.
“Being Tour No. 1 has been the goal right from the beginning of the season,” said the Guadalajara native whose older brother, Carlos, is already a PGA TOUR champion. “I’m not in the best position to be able to finish first, but I can get it done. There’s still a chance. I know I need a win in order to get enough points, but I’m not putting any extra pressure on myself. I just want to enjoy the week, go out and do my best, do what I know that I’m capable of.”
The math also adds up for MJ Maguire, Alex Rocha and Drew Nesbitt to have shots at the top spot. However, if things do not work out for them making a strong, upward move, they know they can’t lose sight of the top five, as players ranked second through fifth at the end of the season will secure conditional Korn Ferry Tour status. According to the projections, players inside the Points List top 17 still have a chance to break inside the top five with a victory.
“Finishing in the top five is huge, so being in the fifth spot, it is very important for me to have a good week. I feel very comfortable on this golf course, so I’m looking forward to getting the week going,” said Maguire, who won the Shell Open when the season resumed after a 10-month break last December in Miami.
There’s a lot more at stake this week for several other players. Those finishing inside the Points List top 10 by the end of the week will be exempt into final stage of the Korn Ferry Tour Q-School, while those inside the top 25 will be exempt into second stage of the Qualifying Tournament.
Meanwhile, the players finishing inside the top 60 will secure full status on 2021-22 PGA TOUR Latinoamérica, a season expected to get the Totalplay Cup race going in November. Currently sitting in the 60th position is A.J. Crouch, who is only one point ahead of South Korea’s Luke Kwon and two points ahead of Mexico’s Emilio Gonzalez.