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We live in changing golf betting times. Russell Knox's win at Sheshan International was as unexpected as it was impressive last Sunday, with the Scotsman capturing his first PGA Tour event in Shanghai - it just so happened to be a World Golf Championship to boot which comes with a nice 3-year Tour exemption. With the Ryder Cup now a real possibility, it will be interesting to see what he does with regards to playing the European Tour in 2016.
Over in Mississippi the Sanderson Farms Championship seemed to be never-ending and the usual crowd of talented youngsters and experienced Tour pros all jostled for position before the inevitable pressure told. Peter Malnati, who had never so much as finished in the Top 10 on the PGA Tour, snatched the title and a 2-year Tour exemption into the bargain. Malnati, whose two web.com Tour wins had been in Brazil (tropical conditions and Bermudagrass) and in Tennessee (adjoining State), was quoted at 250/1 pre-event and joins the list of Grillo, Kaufman, Thomas and Knox as first-time PGA Tour winners since the 2015/2016 season started.
The European Tour Final Series moves onto Lake Malaren this week for the BMW Masters. Justin Rose headlines with Stenson, Grace, Reed, Willett, Casey, Garcia, Kaymer, Oosthuizen and plenty of in-form players all in attendance. Paul Williams has cast his eye over the action in Shanghai and you can read his thoughts on that event here.
Course Guide: El Camaleon is a sub 7,000 yard, 36/35 format Par 71 track. The course runs through dense tropical jungle, mangrove forests and oceanfront so players who miss fairways can be in serious trouble. Greens are small in size at an average of 6,000 sq.ft. The course features some intense bunkering and the green complexes are Sea Isle Paspalum - these are similar to both those played in Kuala Lumpur a couple of weeks back and also the greens found at Trump International, host course of the Puerto Rico Open.
El Camaleon GC, Playa Del Carmon, Mexico: Designer: Greg Norman, 2006; Course Type: Coastal, Resort; Par: 71; Length: 6,987 yards; Water Hazards: A series of canals run through entire property, bordering the majority of holes; Fairways: Sea Isle 1 Paspalum; Rough: Sea Isle 1 Paspalum, 2"; Greens: 6,000 sq.ft average Sea Isle 1 Paspalum; Stimpmeter: 10.5ft. Course Scoring Average 2012: 71.65 (+0.65), Difficulty Rank 17 of 49 courses. 2013: 70.02 (-0.98), Difficulty Rank 39 of 43 courses. 2014: 69.95 (-1.05), Difficulty Rank 38 of 52.
Course Overview: El Camaleon has been transformed in recent years from a technical scoring course to a set-up where low scoring has become the norm. Maybe this change has been as a result of the move in the PGA Tour schedule from February to November, but in reality this Greg Norman design plays pretty much as easily as conditions dictate. 2013 saw Harris English take advantage of incredibly soft conditions and virtually no rough to shoot a tournament record -21/263 with the course playing an average of a 1.5 strokes per round easier than 2012. Last year saw Charley Hoffman tame a course that played faster and firmer across the opening 36 holes. However wind and rain across Saturday's play softened the track allowing the Nevada man to shoot an excellent final 36 hole total of -9/133 to win by a single shot from ball-striker Shawn Stefani. This 36/35 set-up always plays easier on the outward nine which features 2 of the 3 par 5s. Indeed the 3rd through the 8th holes all played under par 12 months ago. Conversely the closing stretch from the 14th onwards tests the mettle of the leaders come Sunday.
El Camaleon is a short set-up where both total driving and ball-striking have been critical across both sets of November renewals. With a north-east breeze and two sets of short par 4s and par 5s in play, El Camaleon never features in the longest driving distance charts. Instead consistent driving and approach play is rewarded with scoring opportunities on green complexes that are relatively soft and ranked amongst the easiest for Putting Average in 2014. Overall course Birdie or Better Conversion at 31.78% was within the Top 10 easiest on the Tour last season, and with three of the par 3s measuring 116 yards (4th), 151 yards (8th) and 155 yards (15th) respectively, quality ball-strikers can really take advantage. Ultimately though, both English and Hoffmann won by performing best across the Par 4s.
Winners: 2014: Charley Hoffman (-17); 2013: Harris English (-21); 2012: John Huh (-13); 2011: Johnson Wagner (-17); 2010: Cameron Beckman (-15).
Tournament Stats: We've published some key player statistics for this week's event that are well worth a look. Naturally they'll help to shape a view on players who could go well this week: Current Form | Tournament Form | First Round Leader | Top 20 Finishes.
Published Predictor Model: Our published OHL Classic of Mayakoba predictor is available here. You can build your own model using the variables listed on the left-hand side. Top 5 of the predictor are Harris English (No1), Brendan Steele, Jason Bohn, Charley Hoffman and Matt Kuchar.
Recent Player Skill Rankings: These rankings are based on a 10-tournament window that stretches back to the Deutsche Bank Championship and includes both PGA Tour and European Tour events. Players must have played in a minimum of 2 main Tour events to be included and rankings are based on performance relative to the rest of the field:
Winners & Prices: 2014: Hoffman 60/1; 2013: English 25/1; 2012: Huh 35/1; 2011: Wagner 150/1; 2010: Beckman 100/1. For a summary of winners' odds on the PGA Tour for the past 5 years based on the 2015 schedule click here.
Weather Forecast: The latest PGA Tour weather forecast for Playa del Carmen is here. As per Mississippi last week, we're in for a mixed bag weather wise. Naturally conditions will be tropical, so pleasant temperatures of 28 degrees Celsius will feel more like 32 degrees throughout the tournament. Thunderstorms are in the Playa area throughout Thursday and Friday, but unfortunately really come into play across Saturday and Sunday. Rain in this area can be torrential, so in all likelihood we could be seeing another weather-impacted tournament. 280mm of rain last Thursday and Saturday will have made the course softer than 12 months ago.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors: Analysing the final stats of the last 4 winners here since 2011 gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this test:
Tournament Skill Averages:
So let's take a view from players as to how El Camaleon sets up and what skill sets the course favours:
Jason Bohn: "I think what I like about this layout, obviously length is always an advantage. But here it's about positioning yourself in the middle of the fairway or right side of the fairway or trying to attack some of these flags. That's one of my strengths is just getting the ball in play. If I can get my putter hot, we'll see what happens."
John Huh: "Well, I kind of give the example, you know, my ball flies a little higher than a normal player, I mean, average on tour. I proved that that was wrong, but obviously you got to keep your ball on the fairway. If you're not it's pretty much you're in the hazard, so...I mean, it's difficult to play with the wind, but we're in the PGA Tour, highest on the tour, and I don't think there is any issue playing this golf course because of the wind. If it blows more than 30 miles, yeah, it is difficult. But if it is just a normal wind, you know, the players are capable to shoot low score."
Rory Sabbatini: "I just did what this golf course requires. I put the ball in play and played conservative, but when I got opportunities was able to take advantage of them and made some good putts. When I got myself off track, was able to recover nicely. If you can do that on this golf course, it's definitely the way to do it. It's a demanding golf course. If you hit the ball well you can score low out here; if you're not hitting the ball well, you got to figure out a way to keep it in play and get it around the course."
Path to Victory: Below are the end of round positions for the last 4 OHL Classic winners:
2013 saw Madrid-based OHL happy to sponsor this tournament through till 2015 with $6 million per tournament. So the OHL Classic was born and the tournament gained full Tour status with 500 FedEx Cup points to the winner. Previously the Mayakoba Classic at El Camaleon Golf Club had always been a second-tier tournament played the same week as the WGC Accenture World Matchplay. The tournament's position in November has attracted a strong enough field in 2015 with Matt Kuchar, Keegan Bradley and Graeme McDowell headlining a field that includes plenty of in-form players looking for a precious Tour win.
Ball-strikers litter the top of leaderboards here from the inaugural 2007 tournament onwards, which is hardly a surprise on a design penned by Greg Norman. Soft conditions allowed both Harris English and Charley Hoffman (in the final round) to overpower the course. With stronger winds than 2014 forecast and soft conditions likely from the off, look for ball-strikers this week who can convert putts on the specialised Paspalum greens. Low scoring though will be more than possible across all 4 days.
Key Bookmaker Offer: Paddy Power are offering a new angle for punters this week at the OHL Classic at Mayakoba. They are paying 7 places each-way at 1/5 odds - check out their current prices here: Paddy Power 7 Places EW
My selections are as follows:
Brendan Steele is a motivated player right now whose ball-striking and scoring ability is top notch. Steele, who's had a strong 2015 that's yielded 6 Top 10 finishes, will only be truly satisfied though if the best golf of his career is topped off with a long-awaited 2nd victory and a likely Top 50 OWGR spot that would come along with it. Asked at Silverado what his main goals are, Steele replied "Get in the Masters, first of all. That would be a big goal. Is that what you mean as far as priorities? Definitely Masters. It's a Ryder Cup year. I would love to be on a team. Those are two goals for sure. And where my game is these days, I feel like I need to be into the majors and the WGCs and all those. I am trying to work my way into all of those. As a rule, I only get into one or two of those a year."
On a course where accurate driving is rewarded, Steele is a great match and the Irvine, California resident was 11th here 12 months ago in Greens in Regulation when he finished 37th (Steele was 16th here on debut in 2013). The difference these days is the putter, where coach Chris Mason has delivered huge positives in tandem with experienced caddy Christian Donald. Strong performances at PGA West (2nd 2015), TPC Scottsdale (3 Top 6 finishes), TPC San Antonio (1st 2011, 4th 2012) and TPC River Highlands (5th 2014) marry up well with Charley Hoffman's results CV, plus Steele will have had time to accustom himself with the time zone -unlike a few of the favourites who travel direct from Shanghai. RESULT: MC
Chris Stroud is very much a course specialist who simply loves playing in equatorial climes. The 33 year-old, who's an ever present at El Camaleon, has a record that holds up to scrutiny not only here in Mexico but also in Malaysia, Puerto Rico and Mississippi, so it's clear that he thrives when conditions are hot and humid. A player who previously shied away from contention, Stroud in recent years has been far more inclined to stick around in the Sunday back nine heat and as recently as the Dunhill Links Championship at St Andrews, Chris shot a closing round 68 when finishing runner-up to the inspired Dane Thorbjorn Olesen. Visits to El Camaleon have generally been rewarding since 2007 when he finished 12th: 4th in 2011, 5th in 2012 and 3rd in 2013 highlight a player who loves the windy challenges at this course and current from of 2 (St Andrews)-10(Silverado)-38(TPC Summerlin) is more than enough for selection this week. RESULT: MC
As we saw in Kuala Lumpur a fortnight ago, Brian Harman can shoot low scores in tropical, soft conditions on Paspalum greens so I'm quite happy to include him in this week's El Camaleon team. Harman has always been an exceptional wind player who, when he first hit the Tour in 2012, always came to the fore on technical tests. However 10th at The Mines (-15/269) in 2012 stood out as an excellent free-scoring performance at the close of a strong rookie season and the St Simons Island resident has gone on to play well on shorter, low-scoring courses since then. Harmon, who captured his maiden PGA Tour title last year at Deere Run with a -22/262, has also finished 3rd at both TPC River Highlands and Sedgefield in recent years - both short courses synonymous with birdie making. His seaside results also appeal: 13th at Waialae, 20th at Pebble Beach, 7th at Harbour Town and 10th at Sea Island. Harman was 12th in high quality company at TPC Boston in September and right now he's putting well and striking the ball excellently. 26th here on debut as a fresh rookie in 2012 included a 3rd Round 65 which placed Harman 7th at 54 holes; he also opened with a 66 here last year before missing the cut. If he can put 4 rounds together this week, the World No. 84 will go close. RESULT: T40
Brice Garnett is a late entry to this week's proceedings having managed to earn a Top 10 finish at the CC of Jackson last week. As a member of the FedEx Cup 126-150 category from last season, Garnett will get limited starts on the PGA Tour this term and only at the weakest tournaments. A year of web.com Tour action awaits unless the Missouri man can deliver quick results. So it's interesting to see that Brice returns to El Camaleon, 12 months on from his main Tour career best finish here 12 months ago. Back then rounds of 66-68 placed him in the Top 10 after 36 holes and after surviving the blustery wind and rain of Saturday, Garnett thrived in soft conditions on Sunday to deliver a 66 and grab his one and only Top 10 finish of the season. Other main Tour results such as 11th at Harbour Town (2015) and 7th in soft conditions at the GC of Houston equate well to previous winners here, plus when you link Garnett's performances at Mayakoba and CC of Jackson together with web.com Top 6 finishes in Tennessee and Brazil, it's easy to see that he thrives in humid conditions. RESULT: 7th
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