The PGA TOUR has touted a 50-event super season this year but that doesn't mean they play 50-of-52 weeks out of the year. In fact, after this week's event, they will shut it down for a month, taking a breather during the holidays.
But before the break, a field of 132 golfers will take their talents to El Camaleon Golf Club for the Mayakoba Golf Classic. It's located in Playa del Carmen, Mexico.
Let's jump right in and talk about the course.
As previously mentioned, El Camaleon Golf will play the role of host this week. The tournament has been played at this Greg Norman design since the inaugural 2007 edition.
The course added 30 yards to the scorecard last year to reach 7,017 yards, playing as a par 71. It's still considered a short course by PGA TOUR standards. Just two of the par 4s play over 460 yards and all three of the par 5s play under 555 yards.
As a resort course without much length you might instantly drift to "bomb and gouge" but that's not really an option here. There are lot of hazards lurking just off the fairways to gobble up errant tee shots. The course winds through jungle, mangroves, and canals.
It's a course where an 18-handicapper might be visiting the pro shop at the turn to stock up on extra ammo. As for the pros, they are able to avoid most of the trouble with proper course management. Big hitters will often club down off the tee on a good amount of the par 4s. That will reduce some of the lost-ball probability but still allow them a short iron for their second shot. Distance is not a requirement here, by any means.
Most years this turns into a wedge fest and then whoever gets hot on or around the greens will float to the top. The list of recent winners includes Brendon Todd, Matt Kuchar, Patton Kizzire, Pat Perez, and Graeme McDowell. All of these golfers are either lights out with a wedge in hand or elite in the short-game department. Kizzire is probably the longest of the bunch but none of them rely on distance.
Once the golfers reach the greens, they will see paspalum turf that runs on the slow side by PGA TOUR standards, typically 10 to 11 feet on the Stimpmeter. That is to protect against the coastal winds which can always be a factor.
Looking at the scoring environment, the median field scoring average is 70.02 (-0.98 RTP) over the last 8 playings. Barring any wild wind in the forecast, we should expect low scores this week.
Sifting through some past quotes, let's try to break down the course to see how it will play.
Billy Horschel: "The ball’s not running out in the fairways and it usually doesn’t run out too much in November. Ball in hand always helps. The greens, as I said, they’re never very quick here. They’re green speeds that you can be aggressive and not worry about a five-, six-footer coming back."
Vaughn Taylor: "The grass is different. It’s Paspalum, it’s grainy. If you haven’t been on it before, you might be a little confused."
Matt Kuchar: "If you’re missing fairways, it means you’re in the mangroves, you’re in the hazard, you’re taking penalty drops, you’re really in trouble. If you’re driving it well, you have a chance to perform well from there, but the wind typically will pick up in the afternoons and when the wind picks up, you had better be hitting the ball solid, you had better be in control. Even if you do find the fairways, the approach shots are awfully challenging as well. "
Cameron Champ: "This course, it’s not a very bomber’s course. Like I said, you have to place it off the tee, and some holes the rough is very thick and you’ve just got to whack it out. This course I feel like is very suitable for everyone. So like I said, just to be able to place my ball right in the fairways and on the greens and make the putts when I needed to."
Danny Lee: "You have to hit the fairways first. Off the tee it’s very critical here because it’s pretty generous fairway, but if you miss it, it looks like you’re going to be in the water, so tee shot is very important. Other than that, it’s almost a good short iron shots and putting contest."
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:
Golf Club of Houston
The theme this week is short and easy. Courses that you don't need to pound drivers.
Thursday: Cloudy with a strong chance of rain. Storms possible. High of 77 degrees. Winds at 6 to 10 MPH with gusts up to 20 MPH.
Friday: Cloudy with a chance of afternoon rain. High of 82 degrees. Winds at 4 to 10 MPH.
As we see most years at this event, the threat of rain is always there. Last year that led to a Monday finish but this year it looks like they can avoid that as long as the rain doesn't hit at the worst possible times.
Golfers to Watch
JT posted four rounds between 67 and 70 in his 2014-15 debut at the Mayakoba which was good for a T23 finish. This will be his first return visit. Thomas is really the class of the field this week and he's led/co-led after four of his last 16 rounds played on TOUR. That includes a 36-hole co-lead at the Masters, his most recent start. It's easy to see why he kicks off the week as a huge favorite on the betting board (6/1 with Brooks Koepka the closest to him at 11/1 odds).
The Georgia Bulldog won here in his 2013-14 debut but returned with a T37, three missed cuts, and a T68, over his next five tries. The results were much better last year when he carded three sub-69s and a final round 70 en route to a solo 5th finish. "I had a lot of success here and I love this place, love the greens. Feel like if I can get it on the dance floor and hit 14, 15, 16 greens a round, I can give myself a chance." It would be a shame if he ended 2020 without a win, given how consistently well he's played all year.
He's pegged it just three times since the new season kicked off, two of those being no-cut events (T28 at CJ CUP and T17 at ZOZO). Berger has slowed his pace but has still lost strokes to the field in just two of his last 17 starts. Is he content with what he's accomplished in 2020 and just hear for a little relaxation? Or does he want to go out in style and cap off his year with a much-deserved second win? He finished T51 in his lone appearance here (2015 edition).
"I love this place, I love the weather. Everything here is just fantastic. I just love playing here." The ASU product has built a reputation for crushing paspalum greens and part of that comes from his win and four other top 20s in 8 starts at this event. He's leaking oil lately, so he'll need to good vibes of Playa del Carmen to juice him back up.
This event means a little more for him, given the location. He's responded with top 10s in two of his last three starts here (T9-T21-T8). Had this to say last year, "Really excited to come back home and play in front of my people. This is, like I say, one of my favorite weeks all year, very special. I love playing in front of my family and friends. And Mayakoba is a place that I really, really like. I love this golf course, so I’m really excited."
Charles Howell III
He's the course horse here with eight top 20s in 11 starts at the event. More recently he's alternated gaining strokes over the field with losing strokes in each of his last nine starts. He gained strokes in his most recent, a T30 at The RSM Classic so if that trend continues he'll be losing strokes this week. Of course, that's a silly trend and not something we should base our decisions on but it does show how CH3 has struggled to find any momentum since the restart.
He's had no trouble finding momentum. The Georgia Bulldog has gained strokes tee-to-green in 12 straight starts, gaining 4+ strokes on approach in six of those events. He's finished T29 and MC in two tries at El Camaleon Golf Club.
Ranking the Field
1. Justin Thomas
2. Harris English
3. Daniel Berger
4. Russell Henley
5. Tony Finau
6. Abraham Ancer
7. Brooks Koepka
8. Viktor Hovland
9. Joaquin Niemann
10. Rickie Fowler
11. Will Zalatoris
12. Billy Horschel
13. Corey Conners
14. Brendon Todd
15. Carlos Ortiz
16. Emiliano Grillo
17. Sebastian Munoz
18. Charles Howell III
19. Kevin Streelman
20. Sepp Straka