World Wide Technologies Championship @ Mayakoba
On the back of the near miss with Kitayama last week at the CJ Cup it was another ‘nearly’ week for us in Bermuda as 150/1 pick Aaron Baddeley played superbly all week to be in the hunt a couple back heading in to Sunday.
A double bogey early on at the par five second put him behinds the eight ball from early on with regards to the win and although he rallied well in the end I was happy to hang on to a place pay out by one shot after a bogey on 18. Still, it was another really solid week for us.
The event in the end was won by Seamus Power. In tough windy conditions the Irishman managed to hold relatively firm down the stretch and take advantage of a back nine collapse from rookie Ben Griffin who had held the lead at the turn and in the end he clung on for a one shot win over the fast finishing Thomas Detry.
So we move on and move from Bermuda 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.
This year the event has a new sponsor technology solutions provider World Wide Technologies. They have signed on through to 2027 so the immediate future of the event looks rosy.
After a couple of weeks of weaker fields some of the games biggest names return to action this week with the market headed up by Justin Thomas, behind Thomas in the market we then have defending champion Viktor Hovland, local favourite Abraham Ancer 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 nine winners of the event since the tournament moved to November.
2021 – V Hovland
2020 – V Hovland
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 winners 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.
V Hovland 44 18 5
V Hovland 15 47 12
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 four of the last six winners had finished inside the top 15 in their previous start with Todd in 2019 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 in 2019 as I noted in my preview we had a different equation in the mix as although 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 the puzzle that year would be as simple as that in that Todd would go back to back! In 2020 though Viktor Hovland triumphed having not teed it up on the PGA Tour in just under a month. Meanwhile last year the Norwegian defended his trophy after a three week break having last teed it up at the CJ Cup.
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 nine winners here were making their course debut whilst six of the other seven had nothing better than a 16th place between them in a combined 11 previous starts. The exception to this of course was Hovland last year who defended the trophy. Prior to his first win though Hovland had missed the cut on his only two previous starts here.
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 RBC Heritage and the Puerto Rico Open are all worth focusing on.
The latter event, which is played on comparable paspalum greens is certainly one of interest and anyone focusing on this line of comparison last year would have been lead to double defending champion Hovland who prior to winning here had landed his only previous PGA Tour title there.
The other regular tour event to feature paspalum greens is The Corales Puntacana while it is also worth noting that the 2021 PGA Championship at Kiawah Island featured paspalum greens.
Finally, the winning score over the past eight editions has varied between -17 to -23 so as noted earlier birdies are the order of the day.
The weather leading in to the tournament shown the possibility of some showers and possibly a storm so the players could be greeted by a softened course on Thursday. The opening day then also shows a good chance of rain.
From there on in though we look set for a dry remainder of the week with temperatures in the mid to high 80s.
Wind could be an issue with gusts of 20mph possible particularly over the first three days.
As I always say though…this could all change!
I have gone with five players this week as follows;
COLLIN MORIKAWA – 18/1 – 2.5pts E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 15th
First off this week at the odds I can’t resist chancing Collin Morikawa.
By the lofty standards he has set in his short career to date it has undoubtedly been a sluggish 2022 for Morikawa with his best finish coming at Riviera early in the year when he was runner up.
Lately meanwhile since a fifth place to start the play offs in Memphis Collin has struggled with, aside from a 21st place in the limited field Tour Championship, nothing better than 29th in the CJ Cup to his name.
If there’s one thing we have learnt about Morikawa over the last couple of years though is that he can turn things around when you least expect him to, notably for example at the Open in 2021 having played horribly in Scotland the week before. Similarly he has produced wins at the Concession Club last year and the Workday event the year before when having produced some pretty ordinary golf in his previous starts.
Coming back to the present day then and Morikawa arrives in Mexico for his first start in this event seemingly in a lull and therefore at odds twice as big as the two other marquee names here.
Delve a bit deeper though and we’ll see that despite his low key opening to 2022/23 Morikawa’s trademark long game is still evident as he ranks fourth from tee to green, 10th in approach play, and 18th off the tee for the season in his two starts to date. Even more encouragingly he ranked third in Accuracy, fifth in GIR, sixth from tee to green and seventh in approach play last time out at Congaree.
Striping the ball with his normal reliability then not unsurprisingly the issue of late has been on the greens for Collin with a ranking of 77th out of 78 at Congaree telling the story. As we know though the 25yr old can get ‘hot’ on the greens when you least expect it and I can’t help but think that a change from the slick greens of Congaree to the slower paspalum he will face here could well be beneficial. Let’s not forget after all that his Open Championship triumph came on much slower greens than he would normally see Stateside. In addition he has some previous on paspalum having played well at Kiawah Island last year in the PGA.
While this will be Morikawa’s debut at El Cameleon a look at recent history here will tell us that the key to success has been from tee to green with the last five winners all ranking in the top ten for the week in old fashioned GIR. On that basis then with Collin expected to find plenty of fairways and greens the course should play right in to his strengths on that front.
To sum up then Morikawa is clearly one of the class acts in this field and to me, motivated to find his first win of the year, he is one good putting week away from doing so and at the odds I am happy to chance that this week is the week it clicks for him again on the greens.
ANDREW PUTNAM – 66/1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 48th
Next up for me is the in form Andrew Putnam.
Putnam’s 21/22 season had been a pretty low key affair up until late summer when an 11th place at the 3M saw him round off the campaign with four solid weeks including a fifth place at the Fedex St Jude.
After a short breather Andrew then came straight back out to start 22/23 with a run of five solid performances the highlight of, which came in the ZOZO Championship where he posted a runner up finish.
Clearly in a great groove of form then it is not hard to see from a look at Putnam’s stats why he is producing these results as in simple terms he is finding more than his share of fairways and greens and then holing plenty of putts. An easy game when put like that!
While Putnam hasn’t been the most consistent player on tour over the years he is clearly a confidence player and after posting his lone win to date at the Barracuda in 2018 he went on to post a top five at the WGC in China and, tellingly for this week, a runner up at the correlating Sony Open at the beginning of 2019.
On this front and while his current form is clearly the key pointer to siding with Andrew this week if we delve back in to his history we’ll see that he has posted top five finishes at both the Corales and Puerto Rico events over recent years, which both of course link very well here. In addition he has other eye catching performances performances on shorter tracks such as TPC Southwind and Colonial on his CV.
On that basis, and particularly bearing in mind past course form has never been hugely key, I am more than happy to overlook his patchy previous efforts here.
Now 33yrs old Putnam’s lone PGA Tour success came at the Barracuda just over four years ago so a second win is certainly now overdue and with his confidence surely high at the moment I am happy to risk him at the odds this week.
CAMERON CHAMP – 80/1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED MC
Next up for me on the back of an eye catching week at the ZOZO it is a green light week for Cameron Champ.
There is no doubt that Champ is an enigma of a player. On his day he looks like a top 20 player in the world and with three PGA Tour wins to his name already when in the hunt he is fearless at closing an event out. Equally though when his game is ‘off’ he goes AWOL for lengthy periods of the season and last year he failed to make the Fedex Cup play offs.
What has become abundantly clear with Cameron though is when he ‘finds something’ one week he is a ‘must follow’ the next time out.
To expand further and the 27yr old’s first win at the Sanderson Farms came the week after an eye catching 25th at the Safeway. Win number two at the Safeway a year later came in a reversal when he played solidly at the Sanderson’s the week before, while win number three at the 3M came in 2021 when we were onboard the outing after he had snapped a horrendous run of form at the John Deere with an 11th place.
Roll on then to last season and while Cameron did not post a victory we sided with him, pertinently for this week, on his last visit to Mexico for the Mexico Open, where he backed up a tenth at Augusta with a sixth place, a result which transpired to be his last top ten of the season.
Fast track to the new campaign then and after opening up with two missed cuts Cameron sprung an eighth place out of nowhere at the ZOZO on a track, which in all honesty you wouldn’t expect to be his cup of tea, and that based on all known history of his profile makes him a must for me this week.
While the upturn in form would be enough to lead me to jump on board Champ this week we do have a couple of other positives to latch on to. Firstly the Texas resident has shown before that he can more than handle El Cameleon having finished 10th here in 2018 posting a round of 62 along the way, while secondly of course two of his three wins on tour have come in the Fall series so we know he enjoys this time of year.
To sum up then Cameron knows how to win and can certainly do so in this company and having rediscovered something in Japan he is very much for me this week.
BRANDON WU – 125/1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 32nd
With his history of strong coastal form it was easy to see why the classy Brandon Wu was on a lot of peoples short list in Bermuda last week, and while he failed to hugely spark, there were enough positives for me to risk him this week at bigger odds, all be it of course in a classier field, to push on.
The eye catching coastal form referred to started on the PGA Tour with a seventh place in Puerto Rico in 2021. After then starting life slowly in his first full PGA Tour season Brandon once more sparked to life on the Paspalum in Puerto Rico posting what was at the time a career best PGA Tour finish of third. As the season progressed Wu then added a sixth place finish at the Scottish Open and for good measure, while not by the coast of course, an eighth at the short Sedgefield CC, which would certainly link nicely here.
Finally, while not a particularly comparable track Wu produced his best ever PGA Tour finish, a second place, at the Mexico Championship in May on paspalum greens so you would think he will be relishing a return to the paspalum Mexican shores.
Back to Bermuda last week and Brandon played to his strengths ranking 15th in GIR however although he produced a great 64 on Friday to make the weekend he struggled to really get any momentum, with an average putting week holding him back. Still though it was another solid week and over his last three starts he has now produced a 64 in Bermuda, a 66 at the ZOZO and a 65 at the Shriners so it is clear he is on the verge of something good.
Wu has made one visit to El Cameleon, back in 2019 before he possessed a full tour card, and a solid 55th, which could have been much better but for a closing 74 offers plenty of encouragement.
Add that then to the positive vibes from his runner up finish in Mexico and the return to Paspalum greens, which he has performed so well on both there and in Puerto Rico, and I am optimistic that if Brandon can find his greens as solidly as he did in Bermuda he could produce a week.
AARON BADDELEY – 250/1 – 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED MC
Finally this week, while in a much stronger field of course, at odds considerably bigger to those he rewarded at last week I feel compelled to stick with Aaron Baddeley.
My case for Badds last week was made from two things, firstly his recent up turn in form, which had not only seen him produce a string of solid results but also Monday qualify for the Fortinet and the event in Bermuda and secondly his history of strong form on shorter coastal tracks, which had seen him land the trophy at Hilton Head, and tellingly for this week finish second in Puerto Rico and seventh at the Corales over more recent years both on the paspalum.
In Bermuda then, while Aaron ultimately came up short he produced a superb week, which saw him eventually finish sixth.
Looking at Badds’ performance in Bermuda and while it wasn’t necessarily reflected in his numbers for the week he looked to be hitting his irons really solidly and in the tough conditions on Saturday and Sunday he played the difficult three hole stretch from 13-15 as well as anyone. In addition his putter, always his greatest strength, but which had been off the boil over the past couple of years again appears to be firing as a whole again.
Having listened to the Aussie’s interviews in Bermuda it is clear he is really happy with how his game is trending and that he has been seeing for several months now the dividends of the work he has been putting in with a new coach. From that point of view then, while he will no doubt be slightly disappointed to have slipped back in to sixth place on Sunday once the dust has settled there will be nothing but positives to be taken from what was his best finish on tour in well over three years.
A best of 26th here in six visits over the years is not a record, which would lead us to think that El Cameleon is necessarily a great fit for him but as noted earlier past course history has never been a huge pointer to finding the winner here. Instead then I will focus on Aaron’s increasing momentum and confidence and his good correlating course form and chance he can follow up last weeks big performance with another.