Mayakoba Golf Classic
It wasn’t quite our week last time out on the PGA Tour in China as our decision to take the temptingly bigger odds on offer of 60-1 for a quarter first five on Matt Fitzpatrick backfired as he stalled on Sunday to go from having a great chance to win going in to the final day to slipping to seventh place.
Regular readers will know that most weeks as a rule I am happy to sacrifice a few points to get the extra place or two on offer with some firms e/w, however on this occasion I just felt the risk was worth taking….Oh well, lesson learnt….
So with just a couple of events left this year of the regular Fall segment of the wraparound 19/20 season we move south of the border to Mexico for the Mayakoba Golf Classic.
The Mayakoba Classic first debuted on the PGA Tour in 2007.
For the first six editions the tournament was played in late February, however in 2013 the event moved to November to become one of the fall events and it has remained in this spot since then.
The event has been played at the El Cameleon Golf Club since its inception.
The field this week is headed up by last year’s winner Matt Kuchar who will no doubt be keen to avoid spending the week discussing ‘Caddygate’. Alongside Kuch we then have Tony Finau, still looking for that elusive second tour victory, and Jason Day who will be looking for a good confidence boosting week following on from getting the nod from Ernie for a Presidents Cup wildcard pick.
El Cameleon is a par 71 measuring just under 7000yds.
The greens are Paspulum.
The course was opened in 2006 and was designed by Greg Norman.
For reference the other Greg Norman design currently used regularly on tour is TPC San Antonio the home of the Valero Texas Open.
If the wind doesn’t blow then as a short par 71 El Cameleon is there for the taking and low scoring is the order of the day.
The key to success here, particularly since the move to November has been good solid ball striking and approach play.
So let’s take a look at the last six winners of the event since the tournament moved to November.
2018 – M Kuchar
2017 – P Kizzire
2016 – P Perez
2015 – G McDowell
2014 – C Hoffman
2013 – H English
Looking at this list of players it is pretty clear that this is indeed a course on which solid ball strikers with a really strong tee to green game flourish.
This is backed up by the fact that the likes of Russell Knox, Kevin Streelman and Ryan Moore have also played well here over the recent years.
Beyond this in an attempt to connect the dots between these winners I decided to take a look at the recent form of these five players when they arrived in Mexico.
With this in mind the table below shows the three previous starts of the last six players to lift the trophy here, with their most recent start noted first.
M Kuchar 57 43 60
P Kizzire 4 10 MC
P Perez 7 33 *
G McDowell 37 24 30
C Hoffman 35 MC MC
H English 27 7 40
*Denotes player had made only two starts recently as he had just returned from injury absence.
As we can see two of the last three winners had finished inside the top 10 in their previous start, however prior to that only Harris English had finished in the top 10 in one of their previous three starts.
It’s worth noting though that for the last three years the Mayakoba has followed directly on from the Shriners, which was not the case previously and with both courses being a strong fit for good solid ball strikers it allowed players to build a bit of momentum in Vegas before carrying that on the following week.
This year however we have a different equation in the mix as although there has been a weeks break many of the players teeing it up this week were in Bermuda for the opposite field event a fortnight ago and with that event being played on a very similar style shortish coastal course it is highly possible form could be carried over from there.
Moving on and looking at previous course form this does not appear to be too relevant.
This is borne out by the fact two of the last six winners here were making their course debut whilst the other four had nothing better than a 16th place between them in a combined seven previous starts.
From a correlating course point of view the obvious stand out venue is Waialae Country Club, the home of the Sony Open and the last two winners here, Patton Kizzire and Kuch have gone on to lift the trophy in Hawaii in January.
Finally, the winning score over the past six editions has varied between -17 to -22 so as noted earlier birdies are the order of the day.
The weather leading in to the tournament has been pretty damp and more rain and possibly storms are in the forecast for Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and indeed Friday, meaning soft conditions will prevail, with the potential for interruptions over the first couple of days.
Saturday and Sunday then look set to be dry with temperatures in the mid-80s throughout the week.
Wind does not appear to be an issue with nothing more than 7-8mph currently showing in the forecast so with the soft conditions I would expect that low scoring will again be the order of the day.
As I always say though…this could all change!
I have gone with five players this week as follows;
RUSSELL KNOX – 33 -1 – 1.5pts E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 33rd
Some weeks when it walks like a duck, looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it is indeed a duck and, if you get my drift, I can’t help but think this could well be one of those weeks.
In other words in more simple terms let’s not go looking for something way out of the leftfield from the outset when the obvious is staring you in the face, in the shape this week of Russell Knox.
The case for the Scotsman is a pretty straightforward one but I shall make it anyway.
Firstly, the most obvious thing to note about Russell here is his course form, which, while as noted earlier is not imperative this week, is of course always useful and he certainly has it here in spades with finishes of ninth, third and second in his last three visits, along with three further top 40 finishes in three previous starts.
In addition to that Knox has shown over the years that he is something of a specialist on shorter par 70 or par 71 tracks with a victory at the Travelers to his name alongside numerous high finishes at events like the RBC Heritage, The AT&T Pebble Beach and the Sony Open, which as already mentioned is a great link for here.
Moving away from course form and the other key driver here is current form and this tells us that Russell is trending very nicely in the right direction, as since missing the cut at the opening event of the season, The Greenbrier, he has finished 48th at the Shriners, 28th at the Houston Open and 11th last time out in Bermuda, so he is clearly trending very nicely in the right direction.
Looking at Knox’s 2019/20 stats so far, not unsurprisingly he is performing strongly in the area of his known best asset, his iron play, as he currently sits tenth for the season in SGATTG, however so far this season the flat stick has let him down as he currently sits 122nd in SGP.
Interestingly though if we then look at Russell’s numbers in Bermuda last time out he finished the week second for GIR and 39th for Putts Per GIR so clearly the putter is gradually warming up.
To sum up, Knox this week is the archetypal case of when course form collides with trending current form and I am more than happy to have him onside at the prices on offer.
HARRIS ENGLISH – 55 -1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 5th
Another ‘must back’ player for me this week based on the prices on offer is Harris English.
English who was seen as a player with a huge future in the game when he first came on tour has struggled massively over recent seasons and having salvaged his card at the eleventh hour in the 2017/18 season at the Wyndham Championship he was unable to repeat the trick last season, meaning that after an unsuccessful trip to the Korn Ferry Finals, he finds himself playing off conditional status this season having finished last season 149th in the standings.
With limited starts on offer this wraparound segment of the 19/20 season is therefore hugely important to him if he is to get his career back on track and this message appears to have hit home as Harris has opened up the 19/20 season with his best stretch of form for many a year, posting a third, a sixth and a fourth place finish at the Greenbrier, The Sanderson Farms and the Houston open respectively, alongside a solid 22nd place finish at the Safeway Open.
The good news for the Georgia Bulldog on this basis is that with 344 Fedex Points and over $895,000 in the bank already he has almost done enough to secure a full card for next season and a couple more decent efforts will get the job done.
Currently ranking third for the season in SGT all departments of English’ game are in great working order at the moment and while he has not performed particularly well at El Cameleon in more recent years he should be relishing a trip back to the scene of his second PGA Tour victory based on his current form.
Now 30yrs old Harris has reached a crossroads stage of his career and based on the form he has shown recently he seems to have finally turned the corner and I can see another great week for him ahead.
HAROLD VARNER III – 50 -1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 58th
Another player who jumps of the page for fairly obvious reasons this week is Harold Varner III.
Varner III has made three trips south of the border to El Cameleon over the course of his PGA Tour career and on two of those occasions he has posted a top six finish, including last year when he arrived here on the back of a solid 15th place in Vegas the week before to finish sixth.
This year the 29yr old resident of Jacksonville Beach comes in to the week in arguably his most solid spell of form on the PGA Tour throughout his whole career as he has followed his third place finish at The Northern Trust at the back end of last season with five strong performances including four top 30 finishes to start off the new campaign.
As well as performing well here over the years Harold has shown over his career that he is often at his best on the shorter tracks most noticeably when seventh at Sawgrass a couple of years ago.
27th last time out at the Zozo Championship, Harold closed the week with a round of 64 so he should arrive here in great spirits and this looks like an ideal opportunity for him to finally post his first tour win.
XINJUN ZHANG – 80 -1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 58th
Next up for us this week is Xinjun Zhang.
32yr old Zhang first gained his full tour card for the 2017/18 season after some strong performances on the Korn Ferry Tour, however a disappointing campaign saw him have to return to the Korn Ferry ranks last season.
Undaunted by his initial lack of success on the PGA Tour though Zhang took the Korn Ferry Tour by storm last season posting two victories and five further top ten finishes to finish the regular season top of the rankings and earn an immediate return to the big league.
This time around the Chinese star has made a really strong start to his campaign posting three consecutive top twenty finishes, including a seventh place at the Safeway and a fourth place in Houston, before most recently finishing 38th at the WGC in his home country.
With such a solid start to his season under his belt Zhang will no doubt be delighted to be returning this week to a venue that he posted his second best result at in his first season on tour, when he finished 20th here in 2017.
Tellingly also it is worth noting that his best result that season came at the Corales Puntacana event on the coast in the Dominican Republic, an event in, which former Champ here Gmac was victorious at last season, while his next best performance that season was a 25th place finish at the Sony. Clearly therefore this type of coastal test is right up Xinjun’s alley.
Currently in a really solid groove of form and now a proven winner this week looks a perfect fit for Zhang and I can see a great showing from him ahead.
PATRICK RODGERS – 200-1 – 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 58th
Having started things off with the obvious ‘course form meets current form’ pick with Knox I am now going to round things off this week with a complete roll of the dice and chance my arm with Patrick Rodgers.
Trying to catch Rodgers on a ‘go’ week is like trying to catch lightning in a bottle and this was never truer than when after a fairly average start to his 18/19 season, and indeed a fairly lacklustre opening couple of days, he shot 61 62 at the weekend at the RSM Classic to narrowly miss out on his first PGA Tour title.
What this told us once more if we didn’t already know it is that Patrick on his day is an absolutely world class player who for reasons best known to himself hasn’t yet been able to find the consistency required to compete regularly at the top level on the PGA Tour.
What has been noticeable though in his years on tour to date, and was shown again in that performance at the RSM, is that Rodgers actually really likes the tests offered up by shorter coastal tracks, or indeed coastal tracks in general and this is something that is borne out by two top fifteen finishes here over the years and further top tens at the RSM as well as at Pebble Beach and Torrey Pines.
In all honesty backing Rodgers is not for the faint hearted and there is nothing in his form so far this campaign, or indeed last time out in Bermuda, another track that could well have suited him, that would lead you to think this will be his week.
All of this though is of course reflected in odds of 200-1 and it is these odds alongside Rodgers’ combination of unpredictability and undoubted talent that tempt me in to siding with him this week.
UPDATED - 13th NOVEMBER
TRADER - TOM HOGE - FINISHED MC
For this weeks trader pick I am rolling the dice with North Carolinian native Tom Hoge.
Hoge gained entry in to this weeks field as an alternate on Monday following the withdrawal of John Huh and there are sound reasons for thinking he could make the most of his opportunity.
Firstly the 30yr old started his 2019/20 campaign with a second place finish at the Greenbrier and then followed this up with another solid week at the Sanderson Farms, these results also came on the back of two strong performances in the Korn Ferry finals so, despite a couple of missed cuts in his last two outings he should arrive here in decent spirits.
Secondly, despite never really having produced the goods here he has a third place finish at the Sony Open to his name and two further top ten finishes at Puerto Rico and the RSM so clearly Tom is happy on the coastal tracks.
Granted Hoge is not the most consistent of players from one week to the next however there is plenty about his form in this type of event and of late to chance him as this weeks trader pick.
CURRENTLY TRADING @ 300