After a quick stop in Las Vegas, the PGA TOUR is stamping their passport and heading south for this week's Mayakoba Golf Classic in Playa del Carmen, Mexico.
It's a 132-man field with a normal cut of top 70 and ties.
This event has been on the schedule since 2007 but it made the move to the fall in 2013 (previously held in February as an alternate-field event alongside the WGC-Match Play).
For some, this is the last chance to earn their ticket to Maui while others treat this as a nice working vacation.
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El Camaleon Golf Club is the host and it's played that role since the inaugural 2007 edition. It's a par 71 that plays under 7,000 yards.
This Greg Norman design is very unique in that part of the course takes place in jungle terrain, part is in coastal swampland, and part is exposed to the coastline. There is even a giant cave in the middle of the par-5 seventh fairway.
The fairways are somewhat generous but can make golfers feel claustrophobic. If you start spraying it off the tee, you are going to rack up some big numbers as most of the fairways are lined with canals/forest/swamps. It's a resort course so it's easy to begin with to begin with but roughly 13% of all blemishes here are doubles or worse. That ranks right around the top 10 in terms of annual TOUR stops.
On the flip side, it ranks inside the top 10 when it comes to Birdie or Better percentage allowed. There will be plenty of birdies to go around, as long as you avoid those hazards.
How about the distance versus accuracy debate? Three of the last five Mayakoba winners have been longer than average but more than 65 percent of all top-10 finishes over that timespan have been shorter than average off-the-tee. Bombers are not at a disadvantage but this is really a short-hitters paradise. There are very few courses on TOUR where I will lean accuracy over distance, but past champs here include Pat Perez, G-Mac, John Huh, Mark Wilson, Brian Gay, and Fred Funk. If that doesn't scream accuracy over distance, I don't know what does.
The exception to that lack of distance came two years ago when quite a few bombers littered the top of the board here. That happens to be the only edition over the last 5 years where it didn't rain or they didn't play preferred lies for at least one round. Too small of a sample to say for sure but the better the weather, the more it opens the course to bombers, perhaps. Something to consider this week.
For grass types, we have Sea Isle Paspalum lining the property. The greens are larger than TOUR average and also run on the slow side (about 10.5 feet on the stimp).
Sifting through some past quotes over at the Fantasy Golfanac, let's try to break down the course to see how they will play...
Rickie Fowler: "I like the golf course. It’s a fun layout. I enjoy playing in windy conditions, so I know it can get fairly windy down here. Like I said, it seems like a fun layout. I’ve only been around it once now, but very much demanding of the tee ball. You have to hit the ball pretty straight to stay out of the native area, whatever you want to call it, don’t go into it. You have to hit the ball straight off the tee to have a chance this week."
Cameron Champ: "Obviously it’s very demanding off the tee, but if you hit fairways here, the course is very scorable depending on the weather conditions. Obviously the wind can pick up some. I hit a lot of 2-irons here, I think half the holes I’ll probably hit 2-iron on the majority of the holes. Par 5s obviously I’ll hit drivers. I just kind of feel comfortable. Even though it’s narrow, it’s just the way it suits my eye, for some reason I just feel comfortable."
Kevin Streelman: "I consider my driver one of my best assets of my game and you’ve got to drive it straight out here. But if you do drive it straight out here, you have number of wedges and a number of other clubs you can attack with. "
Abraham Ancer: "Yeah, I think it just fits my game really well. I don’t hit it very far, but I feel comfortable out here. You don’t have to bomb it out here, you’ve just got to place it, and once you’re in the fairway, you’ve got a good chance of making birdie."
Jon Rahm: "Well, technically it doesn’t suit my game. I mean, it’s really a course for shorter hitters, it’s not really long off the tee. There’s a lot of emphasis and importance on keeping the ball in play off the tee, so that means I’m not able to use my driver as much as I would like to, which is one of my main tools."
Overview: The theme is obvious here with nearly everyone saying that accuracy is crucial here. Rahm and Champ talk about not hitting many drivers which can only hurt them since they typically gain so many strokes off the tee.
Looking at grass types, geography, course attributes, and past performance, here are a few courses/events that I think could prove to be a good pointer this week:
TPC Kuala Lumpur
Harbour Town GL
We get a good blend of short courses and coastal courses. TPC Kuala Lumpur hosts the CIMB Classic which often sees preferred lies used and this event will often see one or two rounds played under those conditions, as well. That course also used paspalum until this year so the connection was even stronger.
Thursday: Partly cloudy with a chance of a sun shower or two. High of 88 degrees with winds starting at 5 MPH and picking up to 10 MPH in the afternoon.
Friday: Partly cloudy with a high near 88 degrees. Winds starting at 5 MPH and picking up to 10 MPH in the afternoon.
Weekend: Some heavy showers possible on Saturday with calm winds in the current forecast all weekend.
There doesn't look to be a major edge one wave or the other but it could all depend on if/when those sun showers pop up on Thursday/Friday. I will revisit tomorrow in the DFS Dish.
Golfers to Watch
Running on fumes right now but you have to imagine his main goal right now is playing his way to Maui. His lone PGA TOUR win came in Puerto Rico... on paspalum greens.
Loved what we saw out of R1 Spieth last week but ultimately ended the week losing almost 4 strokes off-the-tee. Looking at his fairways found compared to the field, it was actually the worst showing of his career. The second worst came at the 2014 RBC Heritage and he bounced back with a top 5 at THE PLAYERS in his next start. He is usually quick to adjust but over the last year he seems to fix one issue only to have another pop up the next week.
Helped Australia win the Eisenhower trophy in 2016 when it was played at El Camaleon GC. Davis took top inidividual honors that week, two strokes ahead of Curtis Luck and seven strokes ahead of Viktor Hovland. Both are also in the field this week. He parlayed that into a top 15 at this event in 2016. Now a PGA TOUR rookie, he's opened with top 30s in two of his first three starts. Not someone I'd start my teams with but definitely a lot of potential here.
Rallied to record a top 15 last week at home in Vegas. He's a GIR machine which is the name of the game here in Mexico. Like he said in the quotes section above, there are a lot of birdies for him here as long as he avoids the hazards. High upside play with big blowup potential as well.
Said this in 2015, "It’s reminds me of Houston where I’m from. It’s hot, humid and paspalum grainy greens. So grew up on stuff like this, used to the kind of weather and it just kind of has kind of a hometown feel to me even though we’re down in Mexico. I love it here, loved it here last year and we’ll probably come back here every year." Got to love that kind of comfort and he's also racking up birdies in bunches lately. Coming off a MC at the Shriners, I'm expecting at least a cut made here at El Camaleon.
Not many ways for him to use his length as a shortcut here. On the bright side, he's seen the course before (Missed Cut last year, losing 7.3 strokes to the field that week). He made a big leap on the Web.com Tour last year, so I'm not counting him out based on just one bad showing at the course.
I talked about it in my Web Rankings, Svensson roared out of the gate in the Caribbean last year. This young Canadian opened the Web season with finishes of T13-WIN-T7 in The Bahamas and Panama. Heading back down to that region, this might be a good week for him to pop as a long shot. The 24-year-old has nothing better than T34 on his PGA TOUR resume but I wouldn't be shocked to see him beat that soon, possibly this week.
I'm not usually a big Spaun guy but this week's course is about as perfect as it gets for him. Spaun has performed much better on grainy greens and he leans on accuracy over distance. The Cali native previously listed Torrey Pines as his favorite course and he calls TPC Scottsdale home now (both are on my correlated courses list above). He also has top 10s at both venues on TOUR. Combine that with a T10 at last year's Shriners and 3 of his 8 career top 10s have come on correlated courses. Arrives off back-to-back top 15s, as well, gaining over 8 strokes on approach last week. I'm jumping on the Spaun train this week.
Ranking the Field
1. Rickie Fowler
2. Tony Finau
3. Gary Woodland
4. Aaron Wise
5. Billy Horschel
6. Emiliano Grillo
7. Joaquin Niemann
8. Jordan Spieth
9. Ryan Moore
10. Sungjae Im
11. Matt Kuchar
12. Cameron Champ
13. Keith Mitchell
14. Chez Reavie
15. Luke List
16. J.B. Holmes
17. Charles Howell III
18. Danny Lee
19. J.J. Spaun
20. Martin Laird
21. Abraham Ancer
22. Anders Albertson
23. Beau Hossler
24. Scott Piercy
25. Shawn Stefani
Check back on Tuesday afternoon for our DFS Dish and Wednesday morning for the Expert Picks.