The PGA Tour provides one final hurrah for the 2020 portion of the new season following a break for Thanksgiving. The Mayakoba Golf Classic will bring in a field of 132 players, including a few big names, to Playa del Carmen, Mexico, for this week’s tournament.
Justin Thomas and Brooks Koepka headline the field, as each makes their second appearance in this event. They will be joined by top Mexican players Abraham Ancer and Carlos Ortiz, as well as four of the past five champions of the Mayakoba Classic, including defending champion Brendon Todd. As has been the case in most tournaments this fall, this sets up to be one of the stronger fields of this tournament in recent years.
The course at El Camaleon Golf Club is set to play as a par-71 at just over 7,000 yards. It is a short track by PGA TOUR standards, and players have attacked it over the years as the winning score has ranged from 18- to 22-under par in the past five tournaments at the course. As is common on coastal courses like we will see this week, the biggest impact comes from the wind, which will also keep the paspalum greens rolling on the slower side. The wind looks set to be pretty calm, but there is some rain in the forecast.
As is common each week on TOUR, the par 5s provide the best scoring opportunity for players this week. The three holes have each played well under par in prior years, with the par-5 13th annually playing as the easiest hole on the course. It has seen a birdie or better over 54% of the time. With seemingly just the lake off the tee to protect it, players are disappointed with par on the 532-yard hole.
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The fifth and seventh holes are the other two par 5s this week and do so at the exact same length on the scorecard: 554 yards. The similarities end there, though, as they work in opposite directions. The fifth is a dogleg left with the canal running up the left side of the hole and around the back of the green. It also plays well under par, yielding both birdies and eagles at a high rate, making it the second easiest hole on the course each year.
The seventh is a dogleg right, which features a signature cave bunker in the middle of the fairway. It is not as reachable in two shots and has seen far less eagles than the other two par 5s, while also yielding birdie “just” 35% of the time. Hole No. 7 will still check in as the third easiest hole at El Camaleon.
Players will have the luxury of a number of short clubs in hand throughout the week as they hit into the greens in Playa del Carmen, and that holds true on three of the four par 3s. None of them will play more than 200 yards, and three are 155 yards or less.
The fourth is the shortest of the bunch at just 116 yards. It is a beautiful tee shot straight towards the Caribbean coast and will require a flip wedge for the players this week. Without the presence of wind, it will surely play under par across the event.
Hole No. 10 is the longest of the par 3s, but it is still a fairly standard hole for the pros at 200 yards and won’t cause too much angst. The cliffs to the front and right of the green will cause some hesitation and eliminate an area for players to miss, which has led to the hole playing just over par over the last several years.
If there are any teeth to Greg Norman’s course at El Camaleon Golf Club, it comes in the 11 par 4s. Each of the six toughest holes on the track are par 4s, but as has been a theme in this preview, it doesn’t come because of length. Only the 16th plays over 500 yards, and none of the others exceed 462 yards in length. The 515-yard 16th hole plays as one of the two hardest holes on the course each year, as the dogleg right is surrounded by the canal to the right and mangroves to the left requiring both length and accuracy off the tee. The approach is into a large green, but it’s protected by bunkers with a deep and large bunker front right of the putting surface.
Another of the hardest holes on the course will come just a couple of holes earlier at the 14th, where players are challenged throughout the 452-yard par 4. A canal running through the middle of the fairway splits the hole and requires a bit of a layup off the tee and a longer second shot that is typically into the wind. It is a large putting surface but, again, is protected by a large bunker to the left of the green. Players will be happy to shoot even par on this hole across the four days.
While I can continue to lay out other challenging par 4s, it’s becoming evident that par-4 scoring may be the most important statistic to lean on this week. El Camaleon Golf Club appears to be a course where everyone will play the par 5s and par 3s pretty well, but the cut and eventually the tournament will be decided across the par 4s. I will take that near the top of my statistical model, especially with this being an international course where shot link and strokes gained data is unavailable.
A number of players have shown success year in and year out at the Mayakoba Golf Classic. No one stands out more than Russell Knox, who has made the cut in each of his past four appearances, with three top-10s, including a second-place finish in 2015.
Pat Perez has nearly the same record as Knox, matching him in both statistical categories I just mentioned, but one of his three top finishes was a win in 2016. He shot all four rounds in the 60s that year and finished at 21-under, two shots better than Gary Woodland.
It’s always fun to check out the career profile of Charles Howell III. The guy has made over $40 million in his career with an amazing 96 top-10 finishes. In the past five years in Mexico, he has racked up two top-10s and another pair of top-20 finishes. Howell only has three victories on TOUR, but he’s still done OK for himself.
Brice Garnett is one player that may slip through the cracks a bit this week, despite his stellar history in Playa del Carmen. Garnett has played four of the past five years in the Mayakoba Classic and has finishes of 11th, fifth, 25th and seventh. He has consistently put himself in contention but isn’t a name most will recognize who might lead to lower ownership in DFS this week.
Pictured above: Russell Knox
Credit: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images