Mayakoba Golf Classic
With the one week break on the PGA Tour the RSM Classic seems like a dim and distant memory now, however brining it to mind is still a fairly painful experience as it was one of those weeks that promised so much only in the end to deliver nothing.
To refresh readers memories heading in to the weekend our 150/1 pick Patton Kizzire was right in the mix while going in to Sunday both he and our 125/1 shot Matthew NeSmith were tied eighth giving us the potential for a juicy each way return.
In the end unfortunately though both were unable to deliver what was needed on day four and Kizzire was bumped from eighth in to tenth place by a couple of players birdieing the 18th behind him.
The event in the end was won by Robert Streb who showed great guts on the final couple of holes and then in a play-off to see off Kevin Kisner to make his second win at Sea Island his second PGA Tour title.
So we move on and move south of the border to Mexico for the final event of a year that will live long in the memory for all kinds of reasons, 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.
With this years event being the final roll of the dice for the players before the Christmas break the field this week is a stronger one than we normally see here and it is headed up by Justin Thomas and Brooks Koepka who understandably head up the market.
Behind this pair then comes the in form Harris Engish, Daniel Berger and Tony Finau.
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.
2019 – B Todd
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 six 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.
B Todd 1 28 MC
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 three of the last four winners had finished inside the top 10 in their previous start with Todd last year going ‘back to back’ following his win in Bermuda, 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 from 2016 through to 2018 the Mayakoba 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.
Similarly last year as I noted in my preview we had a different equation in the mix as although [like this year] there had been a weeks break many of the players teeing it up in Mexico were in Bermuda for the event a fortnight previously and my exact words last year were “with that event being played on a very similar style shortish coastal course it is highly possible form could be carried over from there”….
Well little did I know that the answer to last years Mayakoba puzzle would be as simple as that in that Todd would go back to back!, and while I am not saying that we will have a back to back winner this week it may well be that form from the RSM Classic played on a coastal track at Sea Island carries over well this week in a similar vein.
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 seven winners here were making their course debut whilst the other five had nothing better than a 16th place between them in a combined nine previous starts.
From a correlating course point of view the obvious stand out venue is Waialae Country Club, the home of the Sony Open as the winners here in 2017 and 2018, Patton Kizzire and Kuch have gone on to lift the trophy in Hawaii the following January.
In addition as noted above other events played on coastal venues like The Bermuda Championship, The RSM Classic, The Corales Puntacana, The Puerto Rico Open and the RBC Heritage are all worth focusing on.
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 looks pretty mixed with sunshine and rain both in the forecast.
Looking at the four tournament days Thursday looks set to be overcast with rain while the remaining three days look like they will see there share of showers as well.
Temperatures look set to stay in the low to mid 80s all week.
Wind could be a slight issue for the first three days with the possibility of 15mph gusts however Sunday if the forecast is correct shows the potential for stronger gusts in the region of 25mph.
As I always say though…this could all change!
I have gone with five players this week as follows;
COREY CONNERS – 30 -1 – 2pts E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 17th
First cab off the rank for us this week is Corey Conners.
The back end of the 19/20 season after the tour’s resumption in June was a fairly ho hum affair for Conners as after posting a 19th place in the first event back, The Charles Schwab he was unable to manage another top 20 in his remaining starts.
The start of the 20/21 campaign however has been a completely different ball game for Corey as after two missed cuts in his first two starts he has played all four rounds in seven consecutive starts posting three top ten’s along the way.
Corey’s last two outings have seen him post back to back top ten finishes firstly, hugely impressively at Augusta, and then last time out at the RSM Classic.
At Sea Island the Canadian was back to his ‘ball striking best’ leading the field for the week from tee to green on the measured rounds on the Seaside course while also ranking second for the week in approach play. Not unsurprisingly the putter for which Corey ranked 42nd was the club, which held him back.
So after a week off to recharge the batteries Conners arrives in Mexico for one last push in 2020 and in addition to his great recent form there are a couple of further reasons to think he can flourish again this week, despite the fact that he has failed to produce here on his two previous visits.
Firstly as noted earlier there is an obvious link to the Sony Open in Hawaii here both through the style of the course and former winners in both events, so the fact that Corey has finished 12th and third on his last two visits to Waialae has to be a strong pointer.
Secondly Conners one tour victory to date came on the Greg Norman designed home of the Valero Texas Open so you would like to think that despite his two lacklustre previous efforts here he would have positive vibes teeing it up on a Norman track.
Furthermore it is worth noting Corey does have a 13th place to his name at the Corales on the comparable Paspalum greens, something which should stand him in good stead here.
With the potential for the wind to pick up through the week I am keen on Conners’ ball striking strengths on a course, which has rewarded a similar style of player over the years and I am happy to have him onside this week.
ADAM LONG – 70 -1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 3rd
Next up for me is a player I was pleasantly surprised to see at odds of 70/1 Adam Long.
Since joining the PGA Tour Long has been an absolute revelation with the highlight of course being the way he closed out his maiden tour win to date at the American Express in 2019.
Allowing for the fact that Long’s success in the California desert basically came out of nowhere one could have been forgiven for thinking that Adam would transpire to be a ‘one hit wonder’ joining the likes of Derek Ernst as a future PGA Tour trivia answer, however nothing could have been further from the truth as since his win he has gone on to post five further top tens including second here last year.
Moving on and looking at Adam’s start to the 20/21 season he has continued to produce some really solid stuff making six out of seven cuts and posing his most recent top ten at the Corales Puntacana, where he finished fifth.
Focusing on that performance and Long actually held the 54 hole lead before stumbling badly with a final round 75, however regardless of this if you add it together with his performance here last year it is clear he is right at home on this type of coastal track with the Paspalum greens.
Finally whether coincidence or not I can’t dismiss the fact that another former winner of the American Express, Pat Perez is a bit of a specialist at El Cameleon having posted a win here and several other high finishes, furthermore the man who took the Corales title in the end on a similar track to here was Husdson Swafford who posted his other tour win at the American Express.
All in all though despite his blip on Sunday at the Corales Long has proved a really solid campaigner over the past 18 months plus and having posted two top five finishes on his only two starts on the paspalum to date he is a definite play for me this week.
SCOTT PIERCY – 80 -1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 40th
Next up this week I am going to give another chance to a player we sided with a few weeks back, Scott Piercy.
After a pretty grim finish to the 19/20 season Piercy has started 20/21 in a far more impressive fashion and after missing the cut in his first start at the Safeway he has posted three top 20s in five starts including 18th last time out at the RSM.
On that basis the Vegas resident is a very much a ‘current form meet course form’ pick this week as if we look at his record here he has finished no worse than 26th in his last four visits with a sixth and fourth to his name.
In addition to his form here Piercy has a third place finish at Hilton Head and a second place at Waialae to his name so he clearly has form on the right tracks.
I noted when putting Piercy up recently that he is very much a ‘streak player’ and with the momentum he has been building of late it is not a big stretch to see him adding one last 40yr old+ winner to the list we have seen of late to round out 2020.
BRANDEN GRACE – 150 -1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 40th
Next up for us this week is Branden Grace.
Grace at anywhere near his best is needless to say a player who could make a complete mockery of these odds in this field or indeed any field. The problem of course though is he has been nowhere near his best of late hence the odds we are looking at.
Last time out however there was just enough in the way the South African performed, and particularly in how he closed, at a similar coastal track to make me think he is worth chancing.
Grace arrived at Sea Island in a horrid run of form, which had seen him miss his last six cuts of the 19/20 campaign and start the new one with four missed cuts in six starts and nothing better than a 29th place.
At the RSM however after three fairly average days Branden closed out his week with a six under 64, gaining over two shots from tee to green on Sunday alongside strokes in all other departments. He was also sixth for the week in old fashioned Driving Accuracy, 19th in Strokes-Gained-Off-The-tee and 23rd in approach play so some encouraging signs.
From a course correlation point of view although Grace is making his debut at El Cameleon this week meaning we have nothing to go on if there is a type of course he can rediscover his mojo on a shortish coastal track is the perfect fit, and as a former winner at Hilton Head he ticks that obvious link box that his brought us Champions across the two events in the shape of Kuchar and McDowell.
With the South African swing in full flow on the European Tour it is perhaps telling that Branden has chosen to stay on the PGA Tour for these last two events in an effort to gain some traction in the Fedex Cup on courses that should suit him rather than head back to South Africa and defend his South Africa Open title.
Finally I also like the fact that while a lot of the PGA Tour players will inevitably be ‘winding down’ now with all the golf Branden is used to playing at home around this time of year he should be perfectly accustomed to being sharp in December.
Granted we are taking a leap of faith in relation to Branden’s effort last time out being more than ‘one swallow’ however he is the sort of player who can find something on the right course if his game fits, after all let’s not forget although I referenced his poor form this year, earlier in the midst of that he was right in the hunt in second place at the halfway stage of the Barracuda in the summer when he had to withdraw after a positive covid test, and I am happy to roll the dice with him at the odds on offer this week.
NATE LASHLEY – 250-1 – 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 38th
Finally while I am giving no guarantees of a similar outcome I will finish off 2020 with a roll of the dice on a player at 250/1 who had me looking at his price in a bit of disbelief comparably to how I did with Laird in Vegas a few weeks back.
The player in question is Nate Lashley and the simple reason he appeals so much is the form he has shown to date on comparable paspalum tracks.
Firstly, and only two months ago Lashley posted a fourth place finish at the Corales and if we then dig back further he notched an eighth place finish in 2019 in Puerto Rico so that’s two top tens in his last three stops on the paspalum.
Allowing for the fact that Nate has produced some great stuff on correlating tracks including pretty recently you could be forgiven for thinking based on his odds that his form had fallen off a cliff since his fourth place in the Dominican Republic. Actually though, while he hasn’t pulled up any trees since he has made three cuts in five and he posted a solid 37th last time out.
Lashley missed the cut on his only previous visit here however he has come on leaps and bounds since that trip to Mexico in 2017 and is of course now a PGA Tour winner with three further top four finishes to his name since his win.
Granted consistency isn’t Nate’s strong point however he is a class performer when everything clicks and on a track, which should suit him based on the pointers from elsewhere he is worth chancing each way at the huge odds.
UPDATED 1st DECEMBER
FANTASY DRAFT KINGS PICKS
PICK 1 - BRIAN STUARD - DK VALUE $6900 - FINISHED MC - DK POINTS TOTAL 28.5
For my first sub $7K pick this week I'll side with Brian Stuard.
The case for Stuard is a pretty straightforward one. The man from Michigan first visited El Cameleon in 2010 and posted a second place finish before going on to finish second there again three years later, while five further visits have reaped four more made cuts including another top ten.
Looking at Stuard's form this season after he opened up with a third place at the Safeway he went off the boil however he has made the weekend on his last two starts and last time out he posted a 63 at the RSM.
In summary Stuard has always been at his best on shorter coastal tracks and with his strong record here he looks an obvious play.
PICK 2 - AARON BADDELEY - DK VALUE $6300 - FINISHED MC - DK POINTS TOTAL 27.5
Second up for us is Aaron Baddeley.
There is no doubting that Badds is a tough man to catch right these days and his erratic tee to green game means strong performances don't come along too often from him.
The start of the 20/21 season has once again been disappointing for the Aussie however last time out at the RSM he did at least make the weekend after missing his first four cuts of the season.
With this in mind a trip to El Cameleon should be a perfect opportunity to build on this as Badds has a history of producing the goods on this type of venue with his victory at the RBC Heritage being an obvious reference point.
Twenty sixth here last year Baddeley has made his last four cuts here and he looks a solid bet to make the weekend again.