MAYAKOBA CLASSIC: The PGA Tour heads south of the border this week for the Mayakoba Classic, an event that generally draws a stronger field than you’d think– this year being no exception. Maybe it’s because players want to get their games sharpened up for the… err.. November stretch??
I think a more likely explanation has to do with the location. After all, a November week in Playa del Carmen, Mexico doesn’t sound too bad, does it? It’s enough of a draw to attract the likes of Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Tony Finau, and Zach Johnson, giving this tournament an entirely different feel than it had back in the days when it was held opposite the WGC-Match Play. The venue has remained the same, however– El Camaleon Golf Club has hosted this event since it inception back in 2007, and the Greg Norman layout has held up fairly well, producing a few exciting finishes and yielding plenty of low numbers while still presenting a bit of a challenge tee-to-green, especially when the wind picks up.
Unquestionably, El Camaleon is the type of course that prioritizes accuracy over distance: a par-71 that measures a mere 6,985 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, and last year’s champion, Patton Kizzire– 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)
Emiliano Grillo (22.0)- After a strong start to the 2018 season Grillo fell into a bit of a slump over the summer, but a few weeks off following September’s BMW Championship apparently did him good, as he’s been playing some great golf over the past month, going 4/4 on made cuts in October, finishing runner-up at the CIMB Classic a couple of weeks back, and sneaking into the top-15 in his last start, the WGC-HSBC Champions. He didn’t play last week while recovering from his Far East adventure, so he should be rested and ready for an event that has treated him quite well in the past. Grillo finished 10th on debut here in 2016 and 9th last year, so in eight career rounds at El Camaleon he’s a combined 25-under par, never carding a score higher than 70. Given his current form, it would be a surprise if he weren’t able to at least put himself in the mix over the weekend, making him a pretty fair value at better than 20/1.
Aaron Wise (46.0)- Many are expecting big things out of Wise, who at age 22 has already notched a PGA Tour victory and has shown the ability to get hot and go low. His “boom or bust” nature has been well-documented: in one 10-tounament stretch earlier this year, for instance, he notched a win, a runner-up, a 5th-place finish, a 6th-place finish, and six missed cuts. He may not be the model of consistency, but he doesn’t need to be if we’re backing him at better than 40/1– we just need one of those “hot” weeks. He sure looks capable of it after what we saw at last week’s Shriners Open, where he closed with rounds of 66-66 to finish 15th after a lackluster opening round. While he hasn’t yet performed well at El Camaleon, making the cut in one of his two appearances and struggling on Sat./Sun that week, he sure seems like he’d be a great fit for the course, as his iron play is the strength of his game and he’s proven to be quite handy in windy conditions. I like Wise in this spot– he was sharp last week, he’s young and fearless, he makes birdies in bunches, and he’s reasonably priced. Sign me up.
Cameron Davis (92.0)- Davis is a 23-year old Aussie who just cracked the top-100 of the Official World Golf Rankings, and if you’re not familiar with him yet, you soon will be, as he’s uber-talented and figures to make a splash as a PGA Tour rookie in 2019. He’s already off to a fast start, finishing 17th at the Safeway Open last month and sneaking in to the top-30 at last week’s Shriners Open. But this week is really his chance to shine, because his history at El Camaleon is unique– back in 2016 he represented Australia in the Eisenhower Trophy, an amateur team event that was held at El Camaleon that year. Davis won the individual portion, earning an exemption into that year’s Mayakoba Classic (then known as the OHL Classic), and then he went out and beat most of the Tour pros, finishing 15th. So, clearly, El Camaleon suits his game, and his current form suggests that a big week may be on tap. He’s may be a longshot, but he’s a live one.