MAYAKOBA CLASSIC: After a week off to recover from the mini Asian Swing, the PGA Tour heads south of the border this week for the Mayakoba Classic, an event that has steadily grown in popularity over its 13-year existence. And while some of the spike in interest can be attributed to scheduling and the fact that this tournament is now a full-fledged Tour event, complete with FedEx Cup points and a Masters invite for the winner, don’t undersell the other factor: the opportunity to spend a week in lovely Playa del Carmen, Mexico, which is about as close to paradise as you’ll find on the planet this time of year.
El Camaleon Golf Club has hosted this event since its inception back in 2007, and the Greg Norman layout has held up fairly well, producing a few exciting finishes and presenting a bit of a challenge tee-to-green, especially when the wind picks up. That said, the scores have steadily improved over the past few years, and Matt Kuchar’s 22-under total last year set a new tournament record. According to all the chatter over the last couple of days the course is really soft right now, and more rain is expected this week, so a birdie-fest might be in the offing.
Unquestionably, El Camaleon is the type of course that prioritizes accuracy over distance: a par-71 that measures a mere 7,015 yards, it’s one of the shortest tracks on the PGA Tour, and several of the holes force the players to put the ball in approximately the same spot off the tee, negating the advantage that longer players normally enjoy. Recent winners here include Pat Perez, Graeme McDowell, Charley Hoffmann, Patton Kizzire, and Kuchar– all players who are good with the mid-to-short irons, none of whom are exceptionally long off the tee. That’s the model this week.
With that in mind, here’s what I’m thinking:
Recommendations to BACK (odds in parenthesis)
Abraham Ancer (28.0)- Ancer emerged as a consistent force last year, methodically plodding his way to nine top-25 finishes, including a runner-up at the year-end Northern Trust, a Playoff event with an exceptionally strong field. He’s not particularly long off the tee, but you don’t have to be at El Camaleon, and he’s accustomed to cashing nice paychecks at this tournament after finishing 9th in 2017 and 21st last year. A native of Mexico, he’s sure to have plenty of gallery support this week, and he should be filled with confidence after an excellent week at the WGC-HSBC Champions, where he closed with a 5-under 67 to tie for 4th. Ancer should be viewed as a blue-chip option this week and is worth a bet at nearly 30/1.
Emiliano Grillo (40.0)- A fabulous ball-striker, Grillo does his best work on short, tight courses, so his tremendous record in this event should come as no surprise, but his machine-like consistency at El Camaleon should be fully laid out: in three career appearances at this event, spanning 16 competitive rounds, he’s broken 70 fifteen times, with the other round being a 70 on the dot. He finished top-10 on two of those occasions, and 15th the other time. So this week is right up main street for him, and though he hasn’t produced any eye-popping results over the last couple of months, his game should be sharp after a two-week stay in Asia that saw him shoot a combined 12-under and finish top-30 in both the CJ Cup and ZOZO Championship. I like Grillo here, and he’s reasonably priced.
Harry Higgs (122.0)- If you’re not familiar with Higgs you’re certainly not alone, as this will be his first season on the PGA Tour, but if his performance at the Bermuda Championship a couple of weeks ago is any indication, you’ll be getting to know Mr. Higgs in the coming months and years. The 27-year old Texan played his way on Tour after finishing 5th on the Korn Ferry Tour money list last year, so he’s coming off a very successful season, and he’s looked right at home in the Fall Series, logging top-25s at the Greenbrier and the Safeway Open before really getting it cranked up in Bermuda, where he shot 20-under over four days to finish runner-up to Brendon Todd. The course in Bermuda, Port Royal Golf Course, is said to be similar stylistically to El Camaleon, and there’s another reason to suspect that Higgs will be extra-comfortable playing in Mexico– he spent two years on the PGA Tour Latinoamerica and was the leading money winner on that tour in 2017/18, picking up his first professional victory at the 2018 Peru Open. All things considered, I think Higgs is worth taking a shot on at a price like 122.0.