The PGA Tour moves south to Mexico this week for the 13th edition of the Mayakoba Golf Classic and our man has the lowdown with his comprehensive preview here...
"Following Kuchar’s win here a year ago, and his victory at the Sony Open in January, a feat also achieved by Patton Kizzire the year before, as many as four players have won this event and the Sony Open."
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 six 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.
El Camaleón Golf Club, Playa del Carmen, México.
Par 70, 7, 017 yards
Stroke average in 2018 - 69.25
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 will run no faster than 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 six years almost exactly averaging it's par, with the six winners all reaching at least 17-under-par. Matt Kuchar set the tournament record last year when he got to 22-under.
The only change to the layout this year is the lengthening of the par four 16th hole by 30 yards. Hence the new yardage at just over 7,000.
Live on Sky Sports all four days, starting at 18:00 on Thursday.
Last Five Winners
2018 - Matt Kuchar -22
2017 - Patton Kizzire -19
2016 - Pat Perez -21
2015 - Graeme McDowell -18 (Playoff)
2014 - Charley Hoffman -17
What Will it Take to Win the Mayakoba Golf Classic
I haven't got any stats for the inaugural event but the 11 winners since have an average Driving Distance ranking of 32.54 and an average Driving Accuracy ranking of 33.36 so stats-wise, what you do off the tee here isn't especially significant but there are certainly a few holes were an errant drive means big trouble. Last year's winner, Matt Kuchar, ranked ninth for Greens In Regulation and that's usually a key stat given four of the last five winners have ranked inside the top-11 for GIR.
Kuchar ranked number one for Par 4 Scoring, 12 months after Patton Kizzire and Rickie Fowler, who finished first and 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.
Getting up-and-down appeared more important than putting last year as four of the top-five ranked fifth or better for Scrambling and Kuchar only had a Putting Average ranking of 41st but the two winners before him had a Putting Average ranking of fourth and it would have been nice to see some Strokes Gained Putting stats over the last three 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 three editions but a good week with the flat-stick looks essential.
Is There an Angle In?
There are plenty of really strong course correlations to consider here - almost too many!
The only other courses encountered every year on the PGA Tour that now use Paspalum grass are the Trump International Golf Club, host of the Puerto Rico Open, and the Corales Golf Club in the Dominican Republic, which hosts the Corales Puntacana Championship and both correlate nicely.
Last year's runner-up, Danny Lee, has also finished second in Puerto Rico and the 2011 winner here, Johnson Wagner, finished second in Puerto Rico this year. The Corales Puntacana Championship has only been a PGA Tour event for two years but the 2015 winner, here, Graeme McDowell, won the event this year, 12 months after last year's fifth in this event, Brice Garnett had won the first edition on the PGA Tour.
It's old form now, and it was a stronger event than this, but form at the CIMB Classic in Malaysia, before they changed the grass from Paspalum to Bermuda is worth a look given the 2016 winner here, Pat Perez, won in Malaysia in 2017 and two other really strong event/course correlations to explore are the RBC Heritage at Harbour Town Links and the Sony Open at Waialae Country Club.
Brian Gay, McDowell and Kuchar have all won this event and the RBC and following Kuchar's win here a year ago, and his victory at the Sony Open in January, a feat also achieved by Patton Kizzire the year before, as many as four players have won this event and the Sony Open. Kuchar and Kizzire and Mark Wilson and Johnson Wagner have all won both events and Robert Allenby has finished second in the two tournaments. A number of others have played well at both venues so form there is well worth checking out.
There's also a link between this venue and TPC Southwind, which hosts the WGC FedEx St Jude and one last event to peruse is the Ellie Mae Classic on the Korn Ferry Tour.
The first and second at the Ellie Mae Classic on the Web.Com Tour in 2016, Martin Piller and Brandon Harkins, both contended here two years ago, 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?
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 34.92. 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. Kuchar, just like 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 150.0149/1 chance, and the last two winners, Kizzire and Kuchar, both went off at around 85.084/1. 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.
Kuchar and Kizzire both won wire-to-wire and every winner has shot a round in the 60s to kick the event. And, with the exception of Perez three 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 2017, 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 in each of the last two years) 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 12, 14 and 16).
This is a wide-open affair with the highly promising Viktor Hovland heading the market at 23.022/1. The 22-year-old Norwegian has played here before, missing the cut last year, but although only young, he's now rapidly developing into a very solid PGA Tour player and many feel it's only a matter of time before he gets off the mark. We can probably ignore that effort from 12 months ago and he usually contends, wherever he plays.
Course debutant, Jason Day, is an interesting contender, having just turned 32. Day was runner-up in Puerto Rico ten years ago so the venue should suit and this is quite a drop in grade for the former world number one. Although far from playing at his best, he'd be my idea of the most likely to win and he should be the favourite.
The market can't split the defending champ, Matt Kuchar, Billy Horschel and Tony Finau but none of them make much appeal. Kuchar hasn't played anywhere since he missed the cut in Germany at the start of September and his form has suffered since his reputation started to fall, mainly because he didn't pay his caddie his just desserts 12 months ago.
Horschel has five top-tens in his last 12 starts, so he's been playing well enough of late but he's won just one ordinary stroke play event in the last five years (also won the Zurich Classic pairs event alongside Scott Piercy in April) and his course form figures read an uninspiring 13-30-MC-21.
Tony Finau's sole success came in Puerto Rico, so that's a plus, and his course form figures read a slightly encouraging 7-MC-16 but he never does himself justice in-contention and he's always easy to dismiss.
The in-form 2013 winner, Harris English, is an extremely popular pick this week, and like a lot of punters, I got him onside on Monday at 60/1 with the Sportsbook and I've backed a group of outsiders ranging from 90.089/1 to 440.0439/1, listed below.
Harris English @ 60/1 (Sportsbook)
Si Woo Kim @ 90.089/1
Brendon Todd @ 110.0109/1
Russell Henley @ 120.0119/1
Zach Johnson @ 130.0129/1
Scott Piercy @ 140.0139/1
Keith Mitchell @ 150.0149/1
Fabian Gomez @ 180.0179/1
Patton Kizzire @ 240.0239/1
Zac Blair @ 270.0269/1
Luke Donald @ 330.0329/1
James Hahn @ 390.0389/1
Satoshi Kodaira @ 420.0419/1
Mackenzie Hughes @ 420.0419/1
Jason Dufner @ 440.0439/1
I'll be back on Thursday or Friday with the In-Play Blog.
*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter