Tiger's El Cardonal debuts in Mexico
Bubble Boys looking to save their cards
Mexico Open form worth considering
Fred Funk won the inaugural edition of the World Wide Technology Championship (initially called the Mayakoba Golf Classic) as recently as 2007. The first six editions of the event were played in February as an opposite field event to the WGC Match Play before it switched to this November slot in the schedule 10 years ago.
It used to be a fairly weak event, and this year's renewal is certainly not a strong one, but big names have started attending recently. Following back-to-back victories for this year's FedEx Cup champion, Viktor Hovland, Russell Henley took the title 12 months ago (his fourth on the PGA Tour). This year's Open Champion, Brian Harman, finished second.
All 16 previous editions of the World Wide Technology Championship were held at El Camaleón Golf Course in Playa del Carmen. The PGA Tour decided to end its relationship with Mayakoba, however, after El Camaleón was used on the LIV Golf Tour in February.
Instead, we're off to a brand-new venue this week - the Tiger Woods designed El Cardonal Golf Course within the Diamante Cabo San Lucas resort.
El Cardonal Golf Course, Diamante Cabo San Lucas resort, Los Cabos, Baja California Sur, Mexico
Par 72, 7,452
It's always a little disappointing to lose a longstanding Tour venue but having the chance to view Tiger Woods' first design is compensation of sorts and it looks like a fabulous layout.
Opened in 2014, El Cardonal at Diamante was inspired by the old-style Southern Californian layouts Tiger grew up playing, as he explained:
"El Cardonal is going to remind people of the old-style California courses.
"I set up the golf strategy to make golfers think and make choices. Regardless of your handicap, there are going to be different ways to play every hole. Angles of approach are going to be very important and will dictate the type of shots you should consider. I love this kind of golf."
Starting and finishing with a par five, El Cardonal is a standard par 72 layout (36-36) with four long holes and four short ones and water is in play on just one hole.
The bunkers have a traditional look while natural, irregular contours have been preserved on the generous fairways, which average 60 yards in width, and the bigger than average greens are predicted to be set to between 11 and 12 on the Stimpmeter.
The entire layout is Platinum paspalum which is the same grass used at the Norman Signature Course at Vidanta Vallarta - the host course for the Mexico Open.
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Last Eight Winners with Pre-event Prices
- 2022 - Russell Henley -24 55.054/1
- 2021 - Viktor Hovland -24 21.020/1
- 2020 - Viktor Hovland -20 28.027/1
- 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?
This looks like a great opportunity for those who usually get punished for their inaccuracy off the tee. The fairways are extremely wide, and Driving Accuracy looks highly likely to be an irrelevant stat.
Given the track's exposed nature and its proximity to the sea, fine wind exponents should be at an advantage here. But at this very early stage, we look all set for a benign week so we're likely to have a very low scoring event.
Those who can get on a run and make lots of birdies may well figure this week and the Total Birdies stats are worth scrutinising.
Will the Bubble Boys Figure?
This is the fifth of seven events on the new FedEx Cup Fall Series on the PGA Tour, so time is running out for anyone outside the crucial top-125 in the FedEx Cup standings.
Following the Tour Championship, and prior to Fortinet Championship (the first of the Fall Series events) the top-50 in the FedEx Cup standings had their points tallies frozen and only players outside the top-50 in the standings can earn FedEx Cup points during the Fall Series.
There's an incentive to finish between 51st and 60th at the end of the series as that earns you a spot in both the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am and the Genesis Invitational next year. But with just three events to go, the big focus will be on who can finish the series inside the top-125 to secure their playing privileges for next year.
After this week, the Tour takes in the Bermuda Championship before signing off with the RSM Classic and anyone outside the top-125 after that event will lose their cards for next season so the pressure is on, and it may well be starting to tell.
It would make sense to carefully consider those bobbing around the cutoff point in the standings but in the four events in the series so far, three have been won by players safely inside the top-50 on the standings. And they haven't been strongly represented.
Sahith Theegala (Fortinet Championship), Tom Kim (Shriners Children's Open) and Collin Morikawa (ZOZO Championship) all finished inside the top-50 in the standings after the Tour Championship, so they've played with far less pressure than most.
Luke List moved up form 119 to 61st in the standings when he won the Sanderson Farms Championship but that was a particularly weak event and the field contained only six players inside the top-50 in the standings. Although the same could be said of the Fortinet.
For the record, there were six players inside the top-50 in the Fortinet, 13 in the Shriners, and 17 players inside the top-50 made the trip to Japan for the ZOZO Championship a fortnight ago.
The ZOZO was a limited field event of just 78 players, so it's not a massive surprise to see that two of the 17 who had finished inside the top-50 in the FedEx Cup standings finished first and second, but the other two results were revealing.
Only six players in the field at the Fortinet had finished inside the top-50 but all six finished inside the top-seven and ties and four of the top-six at the Shriners had also finished inside the top-50.
In summary, my instinct was to concentrate on those in search of a top 125 finish to keep their cards. But the results of the first four FedEx Cup Fall Series events suggest we should consider those who finished the regular season inside the top-50.
Could the Mexico Open prove a strong pointer?
We're clearly up against it this week given we're taking in a brand-new venue but form at the Mexico Open over the last two years is worth examining.
As highlighted in the course notes above, El Cardonal has the exact same strain of paspalum as the Norman Signature Course which has hosted the last two editions of the Mexico Open , won by Jon Rahm and Tony Finau. Like El Cardonal, the Norman Signature Course has plenty of space off the tee.
In addition to the Mexico Open, both the Puerto Rico Open and the Corales Puntacana R & C Championship are staged on paspalum tracks and form at this event can't be dismissed either as the previous venue was also a paspalum course.
If the weather forecast is correct and we experience a calm week, we can expect some very low scoring on what is essentially a resort course. And if the scoring is super low, concentrating on the early pacesetters will be the best way to play the event.
It's never easy to come from behind when the weather is benign and it's even harder to do so when the scoring is really good.
With current form figures reading 4-1-10-2-13 across both the DP World and the PGA Tours, it's hard to imagine Swedish sensation, Ludvig Aberg, not contending this week in Mexico.
The 24-year-old's is playing in just his 31st tournament and that includes 11 appearances on the Nordic Golf League, so the fact that he's already up to 58 in the Official World Rankings, and that he's already played in a winning Ryder Cup side, is incredible.
At 99 in the FedEx Cup standings, he's assured of a card next season and having already won on the DP World Tour, a victory on the PGA Tour is surely the next logical step.
At around 10/111.00, he's a worthy favourite and a reasonable price in a field this weak.
World number 17, Cameron Young, who's been as low as 13th in the Official Rankings, is still in search of his first victory. This looks like a fabulous opportunity for him to get off the mark.
The 26-year-old New Yorker has had numerous chances to win on the PGA Tour but he hasn't convinced in-contention, most noticeably at the John Deere Classic in July where he finished sixth, having led by two at halfway. Anyone wanting to get involved at around 14/115.00 needs to bear that in mind.
The extremely likable Californian, Sahith Theegala, who won his first PGA Tour title in impressive style at the Fortinet Championship in September, is the only other player trading at less than 30.029/1.
Unlike the two men ahead of him in the market, Theegala has played in Mexico before, finishing 24th at the Mexico Open in May last year.
At first glance, that doesn't look a great performance, but he sat tied for seventh and just one off the lead after round one before a disappointing 72 on day two saw him plummet down the leaderboard.
He may just take to the venue and his 19th at the ZOZO last time out, his only start since his win, was a decent enough performance.
I've got three fancies for the Find Me a 100 Winner column and I'll be back later today or tomorrow with those, but I've backed just two players at a double-figure price - Akshay Bhatia and Cameron Champ.
Given how well the players inside the top-50 on the FedEx Cup ranking have fared so far in the Fall Series, I was very keen to get at least one on side but the only one I really liked the look of price-wise was Bhatia.
The 21-year-old missed a couple of cuts after he won his first PGA Tour event in July - the Barracuda Championship - but he's finished 43rd, 35th and 21st in each of his last three starts and if his fourth-place finish at the Mexico Open in April is anything to go by, he might take to the venue.
He has an abundance of good form on paspalum and odds in excess of 40.039/1 are more than fair.
Although outside the crucial top-125, Cameron Champ, at 127, has been playing nicely enough of late to ease into the top-125 and this looks like a great opportunity for him to sort out next season's employment.
The big-hitting 28-year-old should take to the venue (finished sixth and eighth in the Mexico Open) and he's shown some very encouraging signs of late.
The Californian finished ninth at the Fortinet before sitting tied for the lead at halfway at the Shriners Children's Open the following week.
A poor third round derailed his challenge there (finished 18th) and he was never a factor in Japan, where he finished 59th in the ZOZO Championship but a week off may have refreshed him nicely and he looks a great fit for the track.
*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter
Read World Wide Technology Championship Each-Way Tips: Picks from 33/1 to 66/1