Mayakoba Golf Classic: Terrific Thomas impossible to ignore

Golfer Justin Thomas
Justin Thomas – a worthy favourite in Mexico

There's a decent field assembling for the final event on the PGA Tour in 2020 but our man's struggling to look past the favourite. Read Steve's comprehensive Mayakoba Classic preview here...

"This hasn’t been a great tournament for favourites but good luck if you’re laying this year's. I think you’ll need it."

Tournament History

Fred Funk won the inaugural edition of the Mayakoba Golf Classic as recently as 2007. The first six editions of the event, formerly known as the OHL Classic, were played in February as an opposite field event to the WGC Match Play before it switched to this November slot in the schedule seven years ago.

It's an event that gets stronger year on year and although the world number one, Dustin Johnson, unfortunately withdrew at the weekend, we still have the likes of Justin Thomas and Brooks Koepka in attendance this time around.

This is the final PGA Tour event of 2020.

Venue

El Camaleón Golf Club, Playa del Carmen, México.

Course Details

Par 70, 7, 017 yards
Stroke average in 2019 - 70.09

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.

MAYAKOBA 2.jpg

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 seven years almost exactly averaging it's par, with the six winners all reaching at least 17-under-par. Matt Kuchar set the tournament record in 2018 when he got to 22-under and last year's winner, Brenden Todd, amassed a 20-unde-par 264 total.

There have been no changes to the layout ahead of this year's renewal but the lengthening of the par four 16th hole by 30 yards had the desired effect before the off last year. It was the hardest hole on the course in 2019, averaging 4.35.

Weather Forecast

TV Coverage

Live on Sky Sports all four days, starting at 19:00 on Thursday.

Last Five Winners with Pre-event Exchange Prices

2019 - Brendon Todd -20 110.0109/1
2018 - Matt Kuchar -22 85.084/1
2017 - Patton Kizzire -19 85.084/1
2016 - Pat Perez -21 150.0149/1
2015 - Graeme McDowell -18 40.039/1

What Will it Take to Win the Mayakoba Golf Classic?

I haven't got any stats for the inaugural event but the 12 winners since have an average Driving Distance ranking of 36.25 and an average Driving Accuracy ranking of 32.66 so stats-wise, what you do off the tee here isn't especially significant but I'd definitely favour accuracy over length. Last year's winner, Brendon Todd, ranked only 79th for DD, compared to 25th for DA and there are certainly a few holes were an errant drive means big trouble.

Todd ranked third for Greens In Regulation and that's usually a key stat given five of the last six winners have ranked inside the top-11 for GIR.

The last two winners have topped the Par 4 Scoring stats and in 2017, Patton Kizzire and Rickie Fowler, who finished first and second, ranked first and second. Every single winner has ranked inside the top-seven for Par 4 Scoring.

Getting up-and-down has appeared more important than putting in each of the last two years. Todd ranked fourth for Scrambling and eighth for Putting Average and 12 months earlier, four of the top-five ranked fifth or better for Scrambling.

The 2018 winner, Kuchar, only had a Putting Average ranking of 41st but the two winners before him had a PA ranking of fourth and it would have been nice to see some Strokes Gained Putting stats over the last four 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 any of the last four 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.

The 2018 runner-up, Danny Lee, has also finished second in Puerto Rico and the 2011 winner here, Johnson Wagner, finished second in Puerto Rico last year. The Corales Puntacana Championship has only been a PGA Tour event for three years but the 2015 winner, here, Graeme McDowell, won the event last year, 12 months after Brice Garnett, who was fifth in this event two years ago, 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 two years ago, and his victory at the Sony Open last year, 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. The 2013 winner, Harris English, who led at halfway before finishing fifth last year, has a ninth, a fourth a third placed finish in the Sony and Robert Allenby has finished second in the two tournaments. A number of other players 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 three 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 Todd certainly fitted the mould last year given, he was 35 in July and that the average age of the dozen winners before him was 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 in 2018 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. Last year's winner was generally a [110.0 chance but he drifted all the way out to 190.0189/1 on the day before the off and Kizzire and Kuchar, the two winners before Todd, 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. That's not entirely surprising given the average age of the winners.

Winner's Position and Exchange Price Pre-Round Four

2019 - Brendon Todd led by one stroke *
2018 - Matt Kuchar led by four strokes 1.538/15
2017 - Patton Kizzire led by one stroke *
2016 - Pat Perez 2- trailing by one 5.14/1
2015 - Graeme McDowell T3 - trailing by three 9.617/2

* The 2017 & 2019 editions were interrupted by the weather so there weren't breaks in play in-between rounds three and four. It was therefore not possible to capture the pre-round four prices

In-Play Tactics

Todd sat second after an opening 63 last year, trailing by just one. He was third and two back at halfway but he led through three rounds and the two winners before him, Kuchar and Kizzire, both won wire-to-wire. Every winner has shot a round in the 60s to kick the event off and, with the exception of Perez four 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 last three third round leaders have all won.

The first and second are tricky holes (ranked fourth and seventh hardest last year) but the front-nine, which contains two of the three par fives (holes five and seven) is much easier than the second nine. The par five 13th is the easiest hole on the course year after year but five of the six hardest holes are all encountered late on. Holes 12, 14, 16, 17 and 18 last year ranked as the fifth, third, first, sixth and second hardest.

Market Leaders

World number three, Justin Thomas, hasn't been back here since his debut in 2014, when he finished tied for 23rd before but I think he's going to lap it up this time.

Thomas' first two PGA Tour wins came back-to-back at the CIMB Classic in 2015 and 2016, when it was still a Paspalum track, and in January 2016 he won consecutive events in Hawaii - the Sentry Tournament of Champions and the aforementioned Sony Open (which he won by seven strokes!). Since then, he's won another nine PGA Tour titles including a US PGA Championship and a couple of WGCs and the latest of his 13 wins to date was the FedEx St Jude in August this year so he has an abundance of form at courses that correlate with this one.

Thomas has form figures at the WGC-Mexico Championship that read 5-2-9-6 and he returns to the country with current form figures reading 3-8-12-2-4. This hasn't been a great tournament for favourites but good luck if you're laying this year's. I think you'll need it.

With a fifth at the Houston Open and a seventh in the US Masters, Brooks Koepka is slowly returning to form after injury. He missed the cut here on his only start in 2013 but I think we can ignore that. Brooks finished second to Thomas at the FedEx St Jude back in August, an event he always plays well in, so this should be right up his street but he's a notoriously better player in majors than he is in ordinary PGA Tour events and that has to be considered carefully.

Harris English is in sparkling form but he was playing well this time last year too when he went off at 60/1 in a weaker renewal. He hasn't won since he took this title seven years (one of only two won) and his third round at the RSM Classic was a bit of a worry last time out too.

Harris English in Mexico.jpg

Poised to challenge going into the weekend, sitting fifth and four off the lead, he shot 72 to fall nine back and tied 19th before rallying on Sunday to finish tied for sixth, beaten by three. He loves this track and he's in fine fettle but he wasn't good enough to get over the line last year and that's my concern. He's starting to become expensive to follow.

Selections

I usually back a plethora of outsiders in this event and no doubt at least one or two will feature in the Find Me a 100 Winner later today or tomorrow but for now, my sole bet is on Justin Thomas at 8.615/2.

The weather forecast isn't great, and we could easily get another Monday finish here, so how that affects him and the other star names is a potential issue but I really can't work out how he fails to contend here.

Of course, there's a chance that he's had enough for the year and he's already in downtime mode but if he turns up and plays how he's played the last couple of months (which is still below his absolute best) he's going to take an awful lot of beating.

*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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