World Wide Technology Championship
It was a case of déjà vu for us at the ZOZO Championship as in a pretty much identical fashion to the previous week we bagged a share of sixth place and the place money with a triple digit selection.
At the Shriners the week before it was Joel Dahmen who had rewarded us while in Japan it was local favourite Ryo Hisatsune who produced a great Sunday finish to bring us a return.
The event itself was won by Colin Morikawa who produced a tremendous final day display to overpower the lesser names alongside him heading to Sunday and bag his first trophy in two years.
The win was a fitting end to a year for Morikawa, which had begun with his awful collapse at the Sentry ToC, a painful loss for him no doubt, and for us as we were on board. Since then he has been solid if unspectacular and he will no doubt be delighted to finish of the ye year with a win.
So we move on and after a week off for the PGA Tour we head to Mexico for the World Wide Technology Championship.
The event, which first debuted on the tour as the Mayakoba Classic in 2007 has been played at the El Cameleon Golf Club since its inception.
This year though after the Mayakoba resort ‘defected’ to LIV golf it is all change for the event as we have a new course in play, the El Cardonal Course at Diamante at Los Cabos.
The field in all honesty is a pretty weak one. The market is headed up by Ludvig Aberg who continues his quest to boost his PGA Tour ranking and is available at single figure odds. Aberg is then followed by Cameron Young who returns to action after a two month break and recent tour winner Sahith Theegala.
The El Cardonal course at Diamante is a par 72 measuring just over 7450yds.
The greens are Paspulum.
The course, which was opened in 2014 and was designed by Tiger Woods and as such represents Woods’ first design to be used on the PGA Tour.
When talking about the course Woods said “I set up the golf strategy to make golfers think and make choices. 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.”
There is of course always an element of guess work involved when we have a new course in play, however with 60 yard wide open fairway and larger than average greens with opportunities to run the ball in I expect this to be one of those tracks where the key to success will be very much from second shot and in.
With the course sitting on the Pacific Ocean wind will potentially be it’s main defence so I wouldn’t rule out players with good ‘links prowess’ allied to short game touch performing well here.
With four par fives to go at as well as two par fours, which could be reachable for the bigger hitters, rather like the Mexico Championship played on the same coast we could also see the bombers thrive here.
The course also features considerable elevation changes, while scrubby desert flora and cacti in the wide open spaces give an element of a desert feel to the track.
Finally, the word we will no doubt here plenty of this week is ‘arroyo’ of, which the course features many and, which the players will be very much looking to avoid. An arroyo for those wondering is a ‘dry stream bed with steep sides’.
With the event moving to a different course this year there really as little to be gleaned from looking at the recent winners of it.
For what it’s worth though here are the last ten winners.
2022 – R Henley
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
So where do we start for clues?
Well to me the event that might well end up giving us the most pointers is the Mexico Open played in May on the Pacific Ocean coast.
As well as featuring the comparable Paspalum greens The Mexico Open is played on another wide open track with little rough, featuring four par fives so it is not a huge leap then to think players who have thrived in that event will enjoy their time here.
Let’s take a look then at the top ten finishers in that event over the two years it has been played.
1 T Finau
2 J Rahm
3 B Wu
4 A Bhatia
T5 E Cole, E Grillo, A Smotherman
T8 B Taylor, C Champ
T10 P Rodgers, B Hossler, H Hall, J Bramlett, A Tosti.
1 Jon Rahm
T2 T Finau, K Kitayama, B Wu, D Riley
T6 C Champ, A Wise, A Smalley, D Lipsky
10 P Rodgers.
As we can see from these two leaderboards aside from the obvious ‘cream rising to the top’, there are plenty of players who are erratic off the tee and with there approach play but are longer than average off the tee and have good touch on the greens, and I expect a similar feel here. That said as is always the case there is ‘more than one way to skin a cat’ and there is no doubt potential for shorter hitters to plot there way round.
Away from form in Mexico allowing for the Paspalum greens in play other events to consider are the Corales Puntacana and the Puerto Rico Open, both of, which feature comparable putting surfaces.
We look set for a gorgeous week of wall to wall sunshine with temperatures sitting in the high 80s all for days.
Wind, which allowing for the coastal location is a potential issue here, could be a factor with gusts of 15-20mph a possibility.
As I always say though…this could all change!
I have gone with six players this week as follows;
BEAU HOSSLER – 28/1 – 2pts E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 15th
There are two big names heading the betting market this week, Ludvig Aberg and Cameron Young, both of course who have the potential to hack up in this field. I have to wonder though if this course will play to Aberg’s tee to green strengths, while Young, who you would expect to be suited by this course, arrives here not having played competitively for two months, which is enough to put me off. Instead then I will start this week with the player from near the top end of the market who has been gaining some serious momentum of late, Beau Hossler.
For fans of Beau it has been a long and to date futile wait for him to bag his first PGA Tour trophy. After bursting on to Tour with a stellar college record before then losing out in a play off in Houston to Ian Poulter, it looked only a matter of time until he landed that first trophy, but so far it just hasn’t happened.
Recently though after another solid enough season Hossler has seriously stepped on the gas with a seventh place at the Shriners and then a runner up finish at the ZOZO in Japan. As a result he now sits 51st in the Fedex Fall rankings and looks a ‘shoe in’ for a spot in the ‘next ten’ and a place in the first two Signature Events of 2024.
Some great recent form from Beau then, however what has really caught the eye is rather than the results coming through ‘smoke and mirrors’ on and around the greens, where his strengths normally lie, he has achieved these results from really solid tee to green play, normally the weakness in his game, particularly the approach play where he has hugely struggled this season ranking 153rd.
At the Shriners though Beau ranked 16th from tee to green, 18th off the tee and 17th in approach play. Then at the ZOZO he was tenth in Driving Accuracy and sixth in GIR. Meanwhile as is normally the case for Beau the putter has continued to cooperate.
On to this week then and arriving, you would have to think, in really confident mood, Beau gets to tee it up on a course that by my reckoning even if he was struggling from tee to green would play in to his strengths with its wide open fairways and large greens.
While of course there is an element of speculation here what we do know is that the Californian teed it up in the Mexico Open in the spring and produced a strong tenth place finish, his best solo performance of the season until his sixth place at the Barracuda.
You would have to think then that the 28yr old will be looking forward to returning to this part of the world on a similar wide open test.
There is no doubt that Hossler’s time will come and with these Fall events so often offering players a chance to make their breakthrough, something we have already seen with Theegala recently, I am keen to side with Beau to finally strike this week.
ASHKAY BHATIA – 40/1 – 1.5pts E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 10th
Next up I can’t ignore the obvious credentials of Ashkay Bhatia.
Still only 21 and with a PGA Tour win to his name already at the Barracuda back in the summer Bhatia is no doubt destined for big things.
Understandably though at his age Ashkay is still something of a ‘rough diamond’ and his is yet to find a level of real consistency on the tour.
Looking at his results this season though and aside from his win at the Barracuda his two best performances came in Puerto Rico where he was runner up and down the coast from here at the Mexico Open where he was fourth and both events of course feature the Paspalum greens, which are in play this week.
Most interestingly in these events was the fact that, his putter, the one area, which he really struggles with and is currently ranked 174th on tour for, co operated really well as he ranked sixth on the greens in Mexico and eighth in Puerto Rico. In addition Ashkay also threw in a round of 63 at the Corales earlier this year on the same surfaces.
Meanwhile to rubber stamp our case for Bhatia on the paspalum and indeed in coastal events we only need to look at the fact that his win on the Korn Ferry Tour in 2022 came on the same surface at the Emeralds Bay event in the Bahamas and he also posted two top tens at the beginning of this year when returning to the Bahamas again on the Korn Ferry Tour.
So we’ve established that Bhatia appears to be something of an expert by the coast and on the paspalum but what of his form coming in to this week?
Well after a couple of missed cuts at the end of the regular season following his win at the Barracuda Ashkay has produced three solid performances in the Fall events only shooting over par once in 12 rounds while last time out at the ZOZO he ranked ninth for old fashioned GIR on his way to 21st.
Longer than average off the tee and strong from tee to green it is very much about the putter for the youngster and for whatever reason he does seem to thrive on these surfaces. If he can bring his normal strong tee to green game to Mexico this week then and rekindle his love affair with the Paspalum he really should thrive.
Meanwhile as someone who makes plenty of birdies and flourishes in low scoring events the scorable test the expect the players to face this week should be right up his alley.
At 97th in the current Fedex Fall rankings Akshay knows that one really big result over the next three events could push him in to the top 60 and allowing for the above this really seems a great opportunity for him to produce just such a performance.
CAMERON CHAMP – 70/1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 45th
If this does transpire to be track that suits the bigger hitters then one player I am keen to have onside is Cameron Champ.
Champ was in our team last time out at the ZOZO on the back of two eye catching efforts at the Sandersons and the Shriners where he posted ninth and 18th place respectively.
Unfortunately though in Japan it wasn’t to be his week and he produced a disappointing 59th.
As we know though Cameron is an enigma of a player who when it all clicks for him can look like a world beater and there has been enough in his recent efforts to make me think that we should be persevere with him on a layout, which I expect to be far more up his alley than the restrictive track he faced in Japan.
While we are again speculating with regards to course suitability what we do have in our favour is that Champ has shown a real liking for the Vidanta track used for the Mexico Open, finishing eighth there on the back of six straight missed cuts earlier this year and sixth there the previous year. From that point of view then Champ should be rubbing his hands together at the prospect of a return to the Pacific coast of Mexico on a wide open course he can give it a rip on.
While Cameron had an off week in Japan there was a lot to like in his performance at the Shriners as despite his Saturday wobble he produced solid numbers in all areas across the week, with his day one performance where he lead the field from tee to green and was fifth in approach play, particularly positive.
At 127th in the Fedex Fall rankings Champ really needs a big week to secure himself in the top 125 and with only trips to Bermuda and the RSM to come after this week, this test by far represents his best chance. I’ll take Champ then to enjoy his time in Mexico once more and to produce a big performance.
BRANDON WU – 100/1 – 1pt e/w – 1/5 odds 1st 8. - FINISHED 54th
Next up I will side with a player who has become something of a specialist by the coast and indeed in Mexico, Brandon Wu.
Wu finished the regular Fedex season in 57th and therefore in prime position for a place in the all important ‘next ten’ from 50-60. With a couple of lacklustre efforts to follow in the Sanderson Farms and ZOZO Brandon now finds himself in 65th spot and with all to play for.
Add these first two Fall efforts to the fact that we have to go back to June for the last time Brandon finished inside the top 35 on tour, on the face of it he is not someone who should leap off the page this week.
On the flip side though we have the fact that Wu seems for whatever reason to come to life when he is by the sea, particularly when we are looking at a lower scoring track and it is that, which leads us back to him this week.
This pattern of coastal form from Wu first reared its head when he was seventh in Puerto Rico in 2021 before he had his full card and he then finished third in the same event a year later, a performance, which came on the back of five straight missed cuts to start the year showing he can find his form out of nowhere when conditions suit him. The Californian then followed that performance with a runner up finish in the 2022 Mexico Open, which was his best finish on tour at the time and he then added an eighth place at the Genesis Scottish Open.
Move on then to 2023 and Brandon was at it again posting another runner up finish by the coast at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am at the beginning of February before he then produced the goods once more this year at the Mexico Open when we were onboard. That’s five top tens then by the coast for Brandon in less than two full seasons as a PGA Tour member.
Whether this layout will suit Wu as well as the Vidanta course round the coast is naturally slight speculation, however the obvious similarities with both venues featuring wide open fairways as well as the paspalum greens are enough to have me siding with the one time Korn Ferry tour winner as he returns to the coast again this week.
HARRY HALL – 100/1 – 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED MC
Another player who I expect to enjoy this weeks challenge is Harry Hall.
At a comfortable 88th in the Fedex Fall standings it has been a good solid debut season on tour for the Englishman and he can look forward to ‘going again’ in 2024 and trying to progress further and bag that first PGA Tour win.
A look at Harry’s maiden season shows that his best result came at the Charles Schwab Challenge where he was third, however aside from that effort his other three best finishes came when he was seventh in Puerto Rico, tenth in the Mexico Open and 13th at the Corales giving us form on the paspalum in all the key events we are looking for here, particularly in Mexico of course.
Looking at that Mexico Open finish alongside his stats for the season and it is not surprising Harry thrived in that event. Known for his prowess on the greens Harry sits fourth in putting on tour, while he is also solid around the greens. Meanwhile he struggles from tee to green and lacks accuracy off the tee. From that point of view then it is clear Hall will perform better on courses where his long game isn’t tested as much and his short game can come to the fore.
Looking at Hall’s form in the Fall and after a missed cut at the Sanderson’s he played nicely in his home town event the Shriners to finish 26th and then followed it up with a 21st at the ZOZO on a course far removed from this weeks test and, which you wouldn’t expect to suit him at all.
He arrives this week then in Mexico with some nice momentum and to a test, which I expect to be far more up his alley.
A winner on the Korn Ferry Tour last year and still only 26 Hall undoubtedly has his best golf ahead of him and on a track featuring wide open fairways with even a touch of a desert feel to it I expect the Vegas based man from Somerset to put in a big showing this week.
BRENT GRANT – 400/1 – 1/2pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 38th
Finally this week at huge odds I shall throw some loose change at Brent Grant.
As befits Grant’s odds the case for him is pretty speculative.
Firstly if this does transpire to be a ‘bombers paradise’ what we have in Grant is one of the biggest hitters on tour as he ranks inside the top 20 in Driving Distance.
Secondly, while this has been a pretty grim debut season for Brent his one shining light came at the Corales Puntacana event where he delivered an eighth place finish, thus giving us some good form by the coast and on the Paspalum. Furthermore his next best effort this year was when 20th at Pebble Beach, giving us another positive display by the coast. In fact it is also worth noting that Grant grew up in Hawaii so it is perhaps no surprise he enjoys a coastal test.
Aside from his eighth place at the Corales and 20th at Pebble Beach, the 27yr olds best effort on tour this season came last time out where he snapped a run of three missed cuts in a row with a 35th at the Shriners, with his normally weak putter co-operating, so some positive vibes for him to bring in to this week.
As I say all pretty speculative stuff, however Grant does have a Korn Ferry win under his belt and in a field that really lacks depth beyond the top three I am more than happy to risk him at the odds.