Best bets for PGA's Mayakoba Golf Classic

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After a week off for Thanksgiving, the PGA Tour returns for its official 2020 finale near Cancun, Mexico, for the Mayakoba Golf Classic. 
Two weeks ago, Robert Streb, the No. 367 player in the world, earned his second career PGA Tour victory at the RSM Classic in Sea Island, Ga., by defeating Kevin Kisner in a playoff to win the tournament at 300-1. Streb’s other PGA Tour win? Also at the RSM Classic in 2014. Streb earned a two-year PGA Tour exemption through August 2023 and an invitation to the 2021 Masters. In 2019, Streb had to go through the Korn Ferry Tour finals just to regain his PGA Tour card. 
 
 
The PGA Tour returns to Mexico with a much stronger field than usual this week. But the tournament took a hit last week when Masters champion and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson decommitted. Johnson has won $21.8 million since Aug. 1, so he is content not to pick up the sticks until the new year at Kapalua. 
World No. 3 Justin Thomas (13-2) and Brooks Koepka (10-1) are the headliners and favorites this week in Playa del Carmen. Harris English is priced lower than normal at 16-1, but he does have four top-10 finishes in his last eight events, including a T-4 at the U.S. Open, and he won here in 2013. Tony Finau (18-1) gained his lone PGA Tour win on a coastal course at the 2016 Puerto Rico Open. Three players are priced at 20-1 — Daniel Berger, a winner this summer at Colonial; Viktor Hovland, a winner this year at the Puerto Rico Open; and Abraham Ancer, who returns to his native Mexico off playing in the Sunday final pairing at the Masters and has two top-10s in his last three Mayakoba events. Russell Henley has four top-10s in his last eight events, and he shares a 30-1 price with Rickie Fowler, who is struggling but did finish runner-up at this event in 2017. Defending Mayakoba champion Brendon Todd is slotted at 50-1. 
 
THE EVENT
The Mayakoba Golf Classic debuted on the PGA Tour in February 2007 as an alternate event that was held opposite the WGC Match Play. In 2013, it was moved to November as part of the PGA Tour’s Fall Series. The tournament became designated a full event, meaning full FedEx Cup points would be allocated along with a Masters invitation for the winner and over a 60% increase in the tournament purse. Previous tournament champions in this week’s field include Brian Gay (2008), Johnson Wagner (2011), John Huh (2012), English (2013), Charley Hoffman (2014), Graeme McDowell (2015), Pat Perez (2016), Patton Kizzire (2017) and Todd (2019). 
 
THE COURSE
El Camaleon Golf Club at Mayakoba Resort was designed by Greg Norman in 2007. It plays at 6,987 yards and is a 36-35 format par-71 track in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, about an hour south of Cancun. The course runs through dense tropical jungle, mangrove forests and oceanfront. The tree-lined fairways are of average width and constructed from Sea Isle Paspalum. The greens, of the same surface, are relatively slow on the Stimpmeter (11 feet). The Paspalum green complexes are similar to what players see at the Puerto Rico Open and Corales Puntacana Championship. Low scores are the norm, and if you look at previous winners, the driver is not required much. 
 
RECENT HISTORY/WINNERS
2019: Brendon Todd (-20/264), 110-1
2018: Matt Kuchar (-22/262), 60-1
2017: Patton Kizzire (-19/265), 70-1
2016: Pat Perez (-21/263), 125-1
2015: Graeme McDowell (-18/266), 33-1*
2014: Charley Hoffman (-17/267), 60-1
2013: Harris English (-21/263), 25-1
2012: John Huh (-13/271), 35-1**
2011: Johnson Wagner (-17/267), 150-1***
2010: Cameron Beckman (-15/269), 100-1
 
* - playoff win over Jason Bohn and Russell Knox
** - playoff win over Robert Allenby
*** - playoff win over Spencer Levin
 
TRENDS AND ANGLES
Seven of the last nine winners at El Camaleon have ranked 10th or better for greens in regulation during their winning weeks. 
 
Greens in Regulation Leaders 
Emiliano Grillo (6) 75.85%
Russell Knox (7) 75.31%
Russell Henley (T10) 74.72%
Patrick Rodgers (14) 73.89%
Camilo Villegas (15) 73.77%
Henrik Norlander (T16) 73.61%
Austin Cook (T16) 73.61%
Cameron Percy (T21) 73.46%
Aaron Wise (T21) 73.46%
Akshay Bhatia (23) 73.15%
John Huh (26) 72.69%
J.J. Spaun (27) 72.63%
Doug Ghim (28) 72.53%
 
HAWAIIAN CONNECTION
Four of the last 10 winners at El Camaleon have also won the Sony Open in Hawaii at Waialae Country Club. 
Matt Kuchar: 2018 Mayakoba; 2019 Sony Open
Patton Kizzire: 2017 Mayakoba; 2018 Sony Open
Johnson Wagner: 2011 Mayakoba; 2012 Sony Open
Mark Wilson: 2009 Mayakoba; 2011 Sony Open
Other Sony Open winners in this week’s field include Justin Thomas (2017), Fabian Gomez (2016), Russell Henley (2013), K.J. Choi (2008).
 
The Mayakoba Golf Classic marks the cut-off point for the year-end Official World Golf Ranking for PGA Tour players. The top 50 at the end of 2020 earn invitations for the 2021 Masters. Here are some of the players on the bubble who are playing this week:
47: Brendon Todd
49: Rickie Fowler
52: Kevin Streelman
54: Chez Reavie
56: Russell Henley
60: Will Zalatoris
63: Joel Dahmen
69: Byeong Hun An
73: Adam Hadwin
74: Graeme McDowell
75: Adam Long
 
SELECTIONS
Russell Henley 25-1
 
Henley has four top-10 finishes in his last eight events. The week after having to watch the Masters from home, he disappointed with a T-30 finish at the RSM Classic. However, this event could be go time for Henley. 
He is No. 56 in the OWGR. The top 50 players receive Masters invitations, and he would surely like to wrap that up before the new year. He has played this event only twice with a best finish of 29th, but he surely fits the profile. Henley rates No. 1 in this week’s field (No. 9 on tour) for strokes gained: approach and No. 2 in this field for strokes gained: tee to green (No. 9 on tour). 
Henley also is a former winner of the Sony Open in Hawaii, which has a strong correlation to this event with several players having won both tournaments.
 
Marc Leishman 58-1
 
Leishman had been showing dreadful form since the summer restart but showed signs of life at the Masters. He finished a respectable 13th at Augusta, where he was fourth in the field for ball striking and fifth for greens in regulation. 
The Aussie has always played well at the Sony Open in Hawaii, Kapalua and on coastal golf courses in general. Let’s not forget Leishman won the Farmers Insurance Open in January and held off Jon Rahm, the No. 2 player in the world, to do it. 
 
Adam Long 60-1
 
Long is another player just outside the top 50 bubble who could lock up a Masters invitation with a strong showing this weekend. 
He was the runner-up last year to Brendon Todd and has played well over the last couple of months with a fifth at the Corales Puntacana (same green complexes as this week’s event), a T-11 in Houston and a T-13 at the U.S. Open. 
 
Joel Dahmen 60-1
 
Dahmen finished sixth here last season. He is not too far removed from the OWGR top 50, and a top 3-5 finish could propel him above that number to earn a Masters invitation for next April.
He also finished T-12 earlier this year at the Sony Open in Hawaii. 
 
Russell Knox 70-1
 
Knox has been hit or miss the last couple of months. In six events, he has missed three cuts, but in the other three he has finishes of ninth, 15th and 16th. 
He once posted three straight top-10 finishes (second in 2015, third in 2016, ninth in 2017) in this event.
 
Charles Howell III 74-1
 
Howell has eight top-20 or better finishes in his last 10 events on this track. He also plays well at the similar Waialae for the Sony Open in Hawaii, having finished runner-up there twice. 
 
Peter Malnati 110-1
 
Malnati has two top-5 finishes (second, Sanderson Farms; fifth, Shriners Hospitals for Children Open) over the last couple of months and has seemingly found something in his game.
He ranks fourth on the PGA Tour in strokes gained: putting and has a top-10 on this course back in 2015. Malnati also finished T-12 earlier this year at the Sony Open in Hawaii.
 
South African Open
 
Christiaan Bezuidenhout won the Alfred Dunhill Championship last weekend in his home province of Mpumalanga at 16-1. The South African also rose from 61 to 41 in the world rankings to essentially lock up a return appearance to the Masters. Bezuidenhout is the favorite this week in Sun City at 7-1. Dylan Frittelli (8-1) returns to his homeland three weeks removed from a fifth-place finish at the Masters. Brandon Stone won this event in 2016 and was the favorite in last week’s event but shares the slot as the third-shortest price (16-1) with 20-year-old budding star Wilco Nienaber, runner-up at the Joburg Open two weeks ago. Scotsman Scott Jamieson was sixth last week and shares a 20-1 price with Austrian Matthias Schwab, 13th last week. Dutchman Joost Luiten is slotted at 25-1 along with South Africans Shaun Norris and George Coetzee along with American Johannes Veerman.
 
THE EVENT
The South African Open’s history dates to 1903. The tournament has been co-sanctioned by South Africa’s Sunshine Tour and the European Tour since 1997. For the last decade, the event has been held in or around Johannesburg, South Africa’s largest city. This year it moves to Sun City to be held at the Gary Player Golf Club. The GPGC ordinarily hosts the Nedbank Golf Challenge, but that event was canceled this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. To no one’s surprise, the winningest player in the history of this event is South Africa’s greatest golfer and the namesake of this week’s venue, Gary Player, who won this event 13 times over a 25-year span from 1956-1981. 
 
THE COURSE
The Gary Player Golf Club in Sun City is a par-72 that measures at 7,831 yards but essentially plays at about 7,500 yards since it is played at an altitude of 3,721 feet. The kikuyu fairways are of average width, and the greens are slick bentgrass. Missing the fairway will be punished as thick kikuyu rough can swallow up errant tee shots. The course is also well-bunkered with a fair amount of mounds and swales. 
 
RECENT HISTORY/WINNERS
 
 
South African Open
2020: Branden Grace (-21/263), 14-1
2019: Louis Oosthuizen (-18/266), 13-2
2018: Chris Paisley (-21/267), 125-1
2017: Graeme Storm (-18/270), 150-1*
2016: Brandon Stone (-14/274), 55-1
2015: Andy Sullivan (-11/277), 33-1**
2014: No tournament
2013: Morten Orum Madsen (-19/269), 80-1
 
* - playoff win over Rory McIlroy
** - playoff win over Charl Schwartzel
 
Note: 2019 and 2020 events played at Randpark Golf Club; 2013-18 played at Glendower Golf Club.
 
Nedbank Golf Challenge
 
2019: Tommy Fleetwood (-12/276), 12-1*
2018: Lee Westwood (-13/275), 40-1
2017: Branden Grace (-11/277), 16-1
2016: Alex Noren (-14/274), 20-1
2015: Marc Leishman (-19/269), 66-1
2014: Danny Willett (-18/270), 25-1
2013: Thomas Bjorn (-20/268), 30-1
* - playoff win over Marcus Kinhult
Note: All Nedbank Challenge events played at the Gary Player Golf Club.
 
SELECTIONS
Matthias Schwab 20-1
 
After playing on the PGA Tour for most of the summer, Schwab is back on the European Tour. The Austrian finished 13th last week at Leopard Creek in a nice warmup for this event.
Schwab was third in last week’s field for driving accuracy, sixth for strokes gained: tee to green and 10th for greens In regulation. 
 
Richard Bland 35-1
Bland is sticking around for a third consecutive week in South Africa after posting finishes of second and seventh.
 
Louis de Jager 50-1
 
De Jager has two top-5s over his last four appearances in Sun City. 
 
Neil Schietekat 80-1
 
Schietekat has played this track in 13 events as a professional and made the weekend 12 times, including a win at the Sun City Challenge in 2018 and a runner-up finish to Dawie van Tonder last month in a Stableford scoring event. 
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