Mayakoba Golf Classic: Defending champ a massive price in Mexico

Golfer Patton Kizzire
Defending champ, Patton Kizzire
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The PGA Tour moves south to Mexico this week for the 12th edition of the Mayakoba Golf Classic and our man has the lowdown with his comprehensive preview here...

"Following Kizzire's win here last year and in Hawaii in January, Mark Wilson, Johnson Wagner and Patton have all now won this event and the Sony Open, Robert Allenby has finished second in both tournaments and a number of others have played well at both venues so form there is well worth checking out."

Tournament History

For the first six years, the Mayakoba Golf Classic, formerly known as the OHL Classic, was played in February as an opposite field event to the WGC Match Play, before it switched to this slot in the schedule five years ago. With FedEx Cup points up for grabs, as well as a place in the US Masters and an increased prize money, the fields are getting stronger year on year.

Venue

El Camaleón Golf Club, Playa del Carmen, México

Course Details

Par 70, 6,987 yards
Stroke average in 2017 - 70.32

Designed by Greg Norman and opened in 2004, El Camaleón is described as a 'unique track' that takes in three differing landscapes - tropical jungle, dense mangroves, and oceanfront. There's even a cenote, which is an underground cavern common to the area, in the middle of the first fairway.

It's a wind-affected, coastal track with smaller than average Sea Isle Paspalum greens that usually only run at around 11 on the stimpmeter.

It was the toughest of the eight tracks used on the PGA Tour that measured less than 7,000 yards in 2012, with 11 holes averaging over-par, but having switched to November and having been played in benign conditions, it's played much easier over the last five years almost exactly averaging it's par, with the five winners all reaching at least 17-under-par.

Weather Forecast

TV Coverage

Live on Sky Sports all four days, starting at 18:00 on Thursday

Last Five Winners

2017 - Patton Kizzire -19
2016 - Pat Perez -21
2015 - Graeme McDowell -18 (Playoff)
2014 - Charley Hoffman -17
2013 - Harris English -21

What Will it Take to Win the Mayakoba Golf Classic

I haven't got any stats for the inaugural event but the ten winners since have an average Driving Distance ranking of 33 and an average Driving Accuracy ranking of 36.4 so what you do of the tee here isn't especially significant.

Last year's winner, Patton Kizzire, ranked 11th for Greens In Regulation and that's usually a key stat with four of the first 11 winners to date having ranked inside the first four for GIR.

Kizzire and Rickie Fowler, who finished second, ranked first and second for Par 4 Scoring and that's clearly a good indicator as every winner has ranked inside the top-seven for Par 4 Scoring and brilliant putting has been key too.

The last two winners have had a Putting Average ranking of fourth and it would have been nice to see some Strokes Gained Putting stats over the last two years because the three winners before Pat Perez in 2016 all ranked number one for that stat. Unfortunately, they haven't produced any SGP stats for either of the last two editions but a good week with the flat-stick looks essential. Fowler had a Putting Average ranking of third and Martin Piller, who finished fourth, ranked first.

Is There an Angle In?

The only other courses encountered every year on the PGA Tour that used to have Paspalum grass were the Trump International Golf Club, host of the Puerto Rico Open, and the Kuala Lumpur Country Club, which recently hosted the CIMB Classic, and the form there couldn't have worked out any better last year with the 2016 winner here, Pat Perez, winning in Malaysia but since Perez won there 12 months ago the grass has been changed to Bermuda so we're now only left with the Puerto Rico Open.

Two other event/course correlations to explore are the Sony Open and the St Jude Classic.

Following Kizzire's win here last year and in Hawaii in January, Mark Wilson, Johnson Wagner and Patton have all now won this event and the Sony Open, Robert Allenby has finished second in both tournaments and a number of others have played well at both venues so form there is well worth checking out and so too is form at TPC Southwind, home of the FedEx St Jude...

I backed Robert Karlsson at [90.0] in this event five years ago on the strength of his form at TPC Southwind and it very nearly worked out. The Swede was matched at just [1.65] before he completely imploded on the back-nine on Sunday and the winner, Harris English, was able to coast home quite comfortably. That was English's second PGA Tour win and his first had come five months earlier in the St Jude Classic at TPC Southwind.

One of Dave Tindall's picks this week, Shawn Stefani, finished runner-up here four years ago and he led the St Jude with a round to go five years ago, Robert Allenby has been beaten in a playoff at both events and Brian Gay has won both this event and the FedEx St Jude.

I've also looked favourably on anyone with form at Colonial Country Club - home of the Dean & Deluca Invitational - as form there and at the two aforementioned tracks, correlate well and last but not least the Ellie Mae Classic on the Web.Com Tour looks worth checking out...

The first and second at the Ellie Mae Classic on the Web.Com Tour in 2016, Martin Piller and Brandon Harkins, both contended last year in Mexico, as did the 2015 EMC winner, Si Woo Kim and given the link already established between this event and both the Sony and the Puerto Rico Open, the 2014 result, which saw Tony Finau beat Fabián Gómez, sticks out like a sore thumb. And El Camaleón specialist, Russel Knox, was runner-up at the Ellie Mae Classic back in 2011.

Is There an Identikit Winner?

Although this was Kizzire's first win on the PGA Tour, he's a bit of a late developer and he was 31 so he can arguably be filed alongside the other experienced outsiders that have done well here.

Fred Funk set the tone when he won the inaugural event at the age of 50 and the average age of the winners is just a shade under 35 at 34.4. John Huh, who was 21 in 2012 and Harris English, who was 24 in 2013, are the only winners that hadn't reached the age of 30 when they won here. The 2016 winner, Perez, had just turned 40 so age is no barrier but fancied players don't have a great record...

The 2010 and 2011 winners, Cameron Beckman and Johnson Wagner, were treble-figure priced outsiders Perez was a [150.0] chance and Kizzire went off at around [85.0] 12 months ago. And although priced in the double-figure bracket, the four winners between and 2012 and 2015 weren't especially well-fancied either.

Kizzire, Brian Gay and John Huh are the only three winners to break their PGA Tour ducks in the event so the majority of winners had already tasted victory.

In-Play Tactics

Kizzire won wire-to-wire last year having opened up with a 62 and every winner has shot a round in the 60s to kick the event off and with the exception of Perez two years ago, every winner has been inside the top-ten and no more than four adrift at halfway. Perez sat tied for 11th and five back, so you clearly need to be up with the pace but until last year, in front with a round to go hadn't been the ideal spot with five of the previous six winners coming from outside of the lead through 54 holes.

The par five 13th is the easiest hole on the course year after year and the first and second are tricky holes (ranked third and fifth hardest 12 months ago) but the front-nine, which contains the other two par fives (holes five and seven) is easier than the second nine and three of the four hardest holes on the course (on last year's ratings) are all encountered late on. Holes 14, 16 and 18 ranked as the first, second and fourth hardest holes 12 months ago.

Market Leaders

Rickie Fowler arrives in Mexico in fine fettle having shot his lowest ever round on the PGA Tour on Sunday at the Shriners (63). He made his debut here 12 months ago and he took to the place straight away. Indeed, he was matched at a low of [1.45] as early as Saturday but as I highlighted in yesterday's De-brief, Bryson DeChambeau has won as many events in 12 months as Fowler has in the last ten years and he's just not the sort to go taking a short price about. And the very same can be said about second favourite, Tony Finau...

The American Ryder Cup star has had a fabulous year but he's still looking for his second PGA Tour title, nearly three years after his first. That win was at the Puerto Rico Open though so that's a big tick in his favour and although he missed the cut here in 2016, on his only other previous visit, in 2014, he finished seventh, so this is clearly a venue to suit him.

This looks like another tournament to chalk off for Jordan Spieth so he doesn't get into trouble again for not playing enough events but I suspect he'll improve considerably on last week's 55th at the Shriners.

In fact, I think he'll love the track and I suspect he'll go well. He's never played here before but he very nearly won in Puerto Rico, way back in 2013, he has two seconds and a first at the aforementioned Colonial Country Club and he rattled home with weekend rounds of 66 and 63 to grab third at Waialae at the 2017 Sony Open, He's never been here before but there's plenty of correlating course form to suggest he'll love it. He's drifted like a barge since the market opened but you can't keep an exceptional talent like Spieth down for long and I'm happy to side with him modestly before the off.

Selections

I liked quite a few here and I'll be keeping an eye on the market tomorrow to see if we get any big drifts on a few others but for now I'm chancing six before the off.

As already mentioned, I've had a small bet on Jordan Spieth and my other five are all big outsiders. The defending champ, Kizzire, and the man he beat in a playoff at the Sony Open, James Hahn, looked too big to me.

I like the odds about Monday qualifier, Corey Conners, who didn't do an awful lot wrong at the Sanderson Farms Championship a fortnight ago, where he traded at [1.7] before Cameron Champ's blistering finish, I've had a small bet on Stephan Jaeger, who shot 58 at the Ellie Mae Classic two years ago before going on to win by seven, and finally, I've backed the last Puerto Rico Open winner, D.A Points and a ridiculously big price for a three-time PGA Tour winner who was fourth at the Wyndham last time out!

Selections:
Jordan Spieth @ [19.0]
Patton Kizzire @ [150.0]
Corey Conners @ [220.0]
James Hahn @ [280.0]
Stephan Jaeger @ [290.0]
D.A Points @ [800.0]

I'll be back on Thursday or Friday with the In-Play Blog.

*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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