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Rod Pampling's win at TPC Summerlin last week continued the run of big-priced winners in Las Vegas - quite apt really. He was a 300/1 chance, following on from Kaufman (250/1) and Martin (225/1). We move this week to Mexico and the Riviera Maya to be precise. El Camaleon has featured on the PGA Tour since 2007 and the 2016 renewal sees an impressive $7 million prize fund. To put that into context it equals the prize fund available at the Nedbank Golf Challenge - which is the second-leg of the European Tour Final Series. Naturally a short field of 72 players are teeing it up in South Africa, but events like the OHL Classic clearly highlight the relative commercial strength of the PGA Tour. A field which includes Russell Knox, Emiliano Grillo, Jim Furyk, Scott Piercy and Marc Leishman from the OWGR top 50 highlights that this event has certainly raised itself a notch or three since its move to a standalone date as part of the wraparound season.
From a bookmaker perspective, Paddy Power are the only firm offering 6 places each-way this week (at 1/5 odds) - you can access this and their £/€30 in free bets offer for new customers here.
Over on the European Tour, Paul Williams previews the Nedbank Golf Challenge - you can read his thoughts on that event here.
Course Guide: El Camaleon at Mayakoba Resort is a sub-7,000 yard, 36/35 format Par 71 track in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. 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 at TPC Kuala Lumpur a couple of weeks back and also the greens found at Coco Beach Golf and Country Club, 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: 7,000 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. 2015: 70.02 (-0.98) Difficulty Rank of 35 of 50.
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. 2014 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. Last year saw G-Mac shoot an impressive 28 birdies (38% Birdie Conversion) on a very soft course. In the process Graeme claimed his first PGA Tour title for over 2 years, beating Jason Bohn and Russell Knox in a playoff. This 36/35 set-up always plays easier on the outward nine which features 2 of the 3 par-5s. Indeed the 3rd through to the 9th 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, slow and ranked amongst the easiest on Tour for Putting Average across 2013-2015. The course was within the top-11 for Par Breaker percentage last term and with three of the par-3s measuring 116 yards (4th), 151 yards (8th) and 155 yards (15th) respectively, they were the easiest on Tour in season 2015/16 as well. Indeed it's not often that you see winners like English and McDowell shoot -9 and -5 respectively across the par-3s on their way to collecting the trophy. 2016 should see longer rough - up to 2" and the introduction of 1" intermediate rough surrounding fairways. We also look set for soft conditions and nothing more than a light breeze throughout.
Winners: 2015: Graeme McDowell (-18); 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 predictor is available here. You can build your own tailor-made model using the variables listed on the left hand side. Key players in the top 5 of the Predictor are Russell Knox (Predictor number 1), Keegan Bradley, Robert Garrigus, Graeme McDowell and Johnson Wagner.
Recent Player Skill Rankings: These rankings are based on a 10-tournament window that stretches back to the Wyndham Championship / Czech Open and includes PGA Tour, European Tour and web.com Playoff events. Players must have played in a minimum of 3 events to be included and rankings are based on performance relative to the rest of the field:
Winners & Prices: 2015: McDowell 33/1; 2014: Hoffman 60/1; 2013: English 25/1; 2012: Huh 35/1; 2011: Wagner 150/1; 2010: Beckman 100/1. Average: 67/1.
Weather Forecast: The latest weather forecast for Playa del Carman is here. The El Camaleon course has been liberally doused with rain in the build-up to the event, with rain forecast across Tuesday and Wednesday as well. Expect typically soft conditions. Temperatures will be hot, with humidity adding to the challenge - look for 'feels like' temperatures approaching 34 degrees Celsius in the afternoons. Winds will be no more than 10mph across all 4 days of play, so this should be low scoring.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors: Analysing the final stats of the last 5 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 skills 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 5 OHL Classic winners:
Incoming form of winners since 2013:
For the record, here's the breakdown of Paspalum PGA Tour victors in the field since 2008:
Course Designer Links: For research purposes other Greg Norman designs include:
First Round Leader Analysis: First round leader(s), their wave and winning score since 2010. Full First Round Leader stats are here.
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. Since a change to a November slot in the PGA Tour calendar, soft conditions have been the norm here at El Camaleon. In 2013 Harris English and 2014 Charley Hoffman (in the final round) overpowered the course. However stronger winds last year with similar soft conditions allowed wind specialists Russell Knox and Graeme McDowell the freedom to compete with the longer hitters. HSBC Champion Knox had the opportunity to win his second consecutive tournament in 7 days with a par down the 18th, but a bogey placed him in a playoff with the 2010 US Open Champion and Jason Bohn who was a 25/1 shot pre-event. G-Mac prevailed and scored his first victory on the PGA Tour for 30 months, boosting his chances of retaining his OWGR top 50 year end position (he eventually finished 57th by year end).
OWGR is also an interesting angle to look at this week as we move inexorably towards the close of 2016. Since the OHL moved to its November position on the PGA Tour schedule, the tournament has been won by players ranked 68th, 90th and 82nd in the World Rankings. Naturally you can put this down to a better field quality with last year's playoff also including Knox (31st) and Bohn (67th). This time of year though does traditionally throw up plenty of players who would love to hear the drop of an Augusta invite on their doormat come December, earned via a win here or an OWGR top 50 exemption.
Bookmaker Offers: Paddy Power have extended their EW terms this week, going 6 places each-way at 1/5 odds:
My selections are as follows:
As we all know, the lines between winning and placing on the PGA Tour are microscopic. Keegan Bradley performed very well in Nevada last week, but ultimately a sluggish opening 12 holes on Saturday cost him a chance of winning the Shriners Open. Now desert golf has never been a particular strength of Bradley whose previous Tour wins came on tracks where top-level ball-striking was critical. So 7th at TPC Summerlin was an excellent return, especially as the ex-World Number 10 was better with his putter and short game than he was with his approach play. Yes you heard that right! We all know about the putting woes of Bradley (amongst others) since the demise of the belly putter, but undoubtedly the Florida-based 2011 PGA Champion is back on the uptrend with his new putting technique and his results in general. Bradley is undoubtedly making more putts from 5-15 feet and he ranked 21st in Strokes Gained Putting in Las Vegas - a number we haven't seen regularly since 2014.
So I like the chances of the OWGR Number 97 this week at an El Camaleon course where he finished 8th 12 months ago. Back then, Bradley's game was in meltdown as he arrived in Mexico, but rounds of 67, 68 and a closing 66 highlight that Keegan took to the course very well. Another huge positive is that Bradley performs well on Paspalum greens - last year in addition to 3rd at Kiawah Island (PGA Championship 2012), plus 10th and 6th at TPC Kuala Lumpur (2013 & 2016) highlight clearly.
Previous winners here have arrived with pretty understated form. Billy Horschel fulfils that requirement well, but his performances have really showed signs of real promise. At 73rd in the OWGR he also sits outside of the Major and WGC tournaments across 2017 entering Mexico. We can go back to Troon in July where in soft and relatively tranquil conditions he shot -4/67 to sit 4th after Round 1. 5th at Sedgefield in August highlights a player who's had masses of success on grainier putting surfaces - his first ever win was at TPC Louisiana in 2013 in humid conditions - and that makes sense for a born and bred Floridian. He also finished 10th at Crooked Stick, in a high quality field, where the whole tournament was played on the softest of golf courses. Even 41st last week included an opening round 64 - not bad after 7 weeks with no competition.
Asked about any changes Horschel responded, "Obviously it's my first event in seven weeks since BMW Championship. Been working really hard. Yeah, it was nice to see the putter working. Switched to the new PXG Gunboat, last week when I was in Scottsdale, got on their machine and they said this putter was meant for me. And it was nice to see some putts go in."
If Horschel's confidence with the putter continues this week - he was in the top 12 for Strokes Gained Putting in Las Vegas - I can see him going very well on a track that rewards top quality ball-striking. 13th (2011) and 30th (2012) here at El Camaleon - in 2011 Horschel was 5th here after 36 holes - the 2014 FedEx Cup Champion has a real affinity with Greg Norman designs. Indeed his record at TPC San Antonio reads 3rd (2013), 3rd (2015) and 4th (2016). Under the radar a little and has a great chance.
I'm no lover of defending champions, but Graeme McDowell makes lots of sense this week at a price I'm actually surprised by. He was a 33/1 winner here 12 months ago and enters the tournament in exactly the same situation he was then - outside of the Masters, Open Championship, PGA Championship and the WGCs in 2017. However for me he's in better form after finishing 5th at Sedgefield in August and 4th at The Grove a few weeks back. Forget TPC Summerlin last week - a desert track at altitude - instead if you focus on G-Mac positive courses his current form reads 4-15-5-10 when you take in the Dunhill Links and Scottish Open. Strong play and let's not forget that Graeme has successfully defended a title in the past going back-to-back at the Open de France across 2013/14. His coastal prowess is easy to see and, at 81st in the OWGR, yet again he needs to find something late in the season. Like Marc Leishman he doesn't play the RSM Classic next week, instead partnering Shane Lowry in the Irish team at the World Cup of Golf.
Asked yesterday in a World Cup press conference, Graeme responded "Normally I probably would have played next week in Sea Island at the RSM Classic, but with my travel schedule down in Melbourne, I decided not to play next week. I want to be as fresh as I possibly can, and be ready to go for the World Cup. I feel like I've learned something new about my schedule every year, and to be honest with you, I'm feeling very fresh and very much looking forward to defending my title this week at the OHL."
Marc Leishman has decided not to defend his Nedbank Challenge title and instead plays the OHL Classic this week in Mexico. With the Nedbank moving from December to early November due to its inclusion within the European Tour Final Series, Leishman has had to make a difficult decision not to defend only his second main-Tour title in South Africa this week. Selected by Adam Scott to be the second member of the Australian team who will defend their World Cup of Golf title at Kingston Heath in a fortnight, Leishman has plenty to play for at this stage of the season, especially as he finds himself 48th in the OWGR with only the Mayakoba and potentially the Australian PGA Championship left on his 2016 schedule. Leishman will now play in Mexico and then travel to Melbourne for the World Cup a week later, "Obviously not playing the Nedbank is a really tough decision, not defending that, but I really wanted to be in top form for the World Cup, because that's a big priority, and you never want to let a partner down by not playing great."
Leishman is one of those who performs best when the pressure is on, so the OHL Classic is a massive opportunity to both seal a Masters invite, but to also continue the excellent form he discovered at TPC Kuala Lumpur on his last appearance. 5th at the CIMB Classic saw the Virginia Beach resident finish 4th for Greens in Regulation, 7th for Putts per GIR (on Paspalum greens), 3rd for Total Birdies made and interestingly he also headed par-3 scoring that week at -7. Leishman is also an excellent exponent of coastal golf with 5th at Waialae (2014), 2nd at Torrey Pines (2010 & 2014), 9th at Harbour Town (2013), plus 5th at Royal Liverpool (2014) and 2nd at St Andrews (2015), highlighting a propensity to play his best golf with the smell of sea-salt in his nostrils.
The Argentine World Number 80 is a seaside specialist who has won twice on the PGA Tour in the past 18 months. Wins at TPC Southwind (2015) and Waialae (2016) correlate well with El Camaleon. Fabian Gomez hit the PGA Tour scene back in 2013 when he finished 2nd in the Puerto Rico Open losing out by a shot to Scott Brown whilst finishing at -19/269 with a certain Jordan Spieth. Naturally Coco Beach Golf and Country Club share Paspalum green type with El Camaleon and Gomez has always thrived on similar greens and in humid / hot conditions. He's such a specialist that he never carries form for long, so a run which started with 15th at The Olympics and includes 60th (Barclays)-5th (Deutsche)-47th (BMW)-26th (Safeway)-57th (Shriners) is a totally new departure for Fabian whose ball-striking is getting better with each performance. If his approach play marries up to a great putting performance this week he will go well, especially as on his last appearance here in 2014 he shot rounds of 66 & 67, when finishing 23rd.
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