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It's always nice to be on board a first-time PGA Tour winner. We've had Jimmy Walker, Chesson Hadley, Kevin Kisner and Kevin Chappell over recent years and Patrick Cantlay was a new addition to that high-quality list of PGA Tour maidens when he won a wind-affected Shriners Open last week for us at 20/1. Grabbing a good chunk of a place on Patton Kizzire at 125/1 was an added bonus. 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 2017 renewal sees an impressive $7.1 million prize fund provided by Madrid-based construction company OHL. This event has certainly raised itself a notch or three since its move to a standalone date as part of the wraparound season and 2017 sees Rickie Fowler, Patrick Reed, Charley Hoffman, Kevin Chappell and defending champion Pat Perez in Mexico.
Over on the European Tour, Paul Williams previews the Nedbank Golf Challenge - you can read his thoughts on that event here.
Coral are offering 7 places each-way at 1/5 odds across the OHL Classic at Mayakoba. When it comes to full-field events across both the European Tour and PGA Tour, 7 places each way is standard practice for Coral. New customers get 4x £/€5 free bets when they join Coral and bet just £/€5. You must be over 18, T&Cs apply:
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: 11ft. 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 35 of 50. 2016: 69.61 (-1.39), Difficulty Rank 41 of 50 courses.
Course Designer Links: For research purposes other Greg Norman designs include:
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 (then) 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. 2015 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.
No discernable wind and graduated rough saw Pat Perez take the course apart 12 months ago to equal English's tournament best -21/ 263 winning score and beat Gary Woodland by 2 shots and late charging course specialist Russell Knox by 3 shots. 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 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 3 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 2013-2016. The course was within the top 8 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 have been the easiest set of par-3s on Tour across the last 2 PGA Tour seasons. Indeed it's not often that you see winners like English, McDowell and Perez shoot -9, -5 and -4 respectively across the par-3s on their way to collecting the trophy. 2016 saw longer rough - up to 2" and the introduction of 1" intermediate rough surrounding fairways, which only aided scoring. With a typically soft course and light breezes, there's no reason to suggest this won't be a birdie-fest again this week.
Winners: 2016: Pat Perez (-21); 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 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 Chesson Hadley, Pat Perez, Gary Woodland, Luke List and Ryan Armour.
Recent Player Skill Rankings: These rankings are based on a 10-tournament window that stretches back to the Dell Technologies Championship / Czech Masters / Nationwide Children's Hospital Championship tournaments and includes PGA Tour, European Tour and web.com Playoff events. Players must have played in a minimum of 2 Tour events to be included and rankings are based on performance relative to the rest of the field:
Winners & Prices: 2016: Perez 125/1; 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: 75/1.
Weather Forecast: The latest weather forecast for Playa del Carmen is here. The area hasn't seen its normal level of precipitation across the last 13 days, so the course may well be a little firmer than we usually see. There's the threat of thunderstorms across Friday and Sunday but they certainly aren't guaranteed. Temperatures will be hot, with humidity adding to the challenge - look for 'feels like' temperatures approaching 32 degrees Celsius in the afternoons. Winds will be no more than 10 to 15mph across all 4 days of play, so this should be low scoring.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors: Analysing the final stats of winners 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:
Charley Hoffman: "Usually the last few years I played here it's been windy, so I'm a little more familiar with the wind than the calm of the first two days, they were very calm and then yesterday, obviously, with the rain and a little bit of wind, and today was, I would say, back to sort of normal weather for here at the golf tournament. To be honest with you, there's not a ton of leaderboards out there. I knew there was some birdie holes coming in and I wasn't going to shoot for middle of the greens and let someone else beat me. I wanted to win the golf tournament and I was able to do that."
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 6 OHL Classic winners:
Incoming form of winners since 2013:
First Round Leader Analysis: First round leader(s), their wave and winning score since 2010. Full First Round Leader stats are here.
For the record, here's the breakdown of Paspalum PGA Tour victors in the field since 2008:
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 in 2015 with similar soft conditions allowed wind specialists Russell Knox and Graeme McDowell the freedom to compete with the longer hitters, as well as Jason Bohn who was a 25/1 shot pre-event. 12 months ago Pat Perez, in only his 3rd appearance coming off a 5 month break for a shoulder injury, pocketed his 2nd PGA Tour win of his career, defeating 54-hole leader Gary Woodland in a tournament blessed by tranquil conditions and a little cut in the turf.
OWGR is an interesting angle to look at this week as we move inexorably towards the close of 2017. Since the OHL moved to its November position on the PGA Tour schedule, the tournament has been won by players ranked 68th (English), 90th (Hoffman), 82nd (McDowell) and 271st (Perez) in the World Rankings. Perez's win was out of kilter for sure, but his nearest pursuers were 54th (Woodland), 19th (Knox) and 35th (Piercy) in the OWGR. 2015's playoff also including Knox (31st) and Bohn (67th). This time of year 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 come close of the year.
Bookmaker Offers: Latest offers and extended each-way places are detailed below.
My selections are as follows:
Chesson Hadley is a must-back this week and naturally needs very little supporting commentary. After another excellent performance last week, the inclusion of Rickie Fowler, Pat Perez and Patrick Reed has supported Hadley's price to a point where it's equal to last week's and undoubtedly I think the World Number 79 (up 369 spots) will like the set-up at El Camaleon. A 50/1 winner at the 2014 Puerto Rico Open when we were on-board, Chesson has had a stellar 2017 with 2 wins on the web.com Tour being supported by a further 3 top-3 finishes. The leading web.com money winner has also set about his re-introduction to the PGA Tour with gusto, finishing 3rd at the Safeway Open, 2nd at the Sanderson Farms and 4th last week at the Shriners Open. 14th for Birdie Average, 12th for Ball Striking, 8th for Strokes Gained on Approach and 2nd for Stokes Gained Total are embryonic season stats which demand respect. His win in Puerto Rico was on Paspalum greens and in this kind of tropical climate, so I can see the Predictor Number 1 keeping this run going for one further week. RESULT: WD
Taking Charles Howell III here at 7 places each way is almost like an insurance policy. 6 top-20 finishes in 8 appearances tells you as much and Charles was 6th here in 2013 as well as 7th last year. But if you look at 2017 in its entirety and this tournament in particular, it may not be too far-fetched to draw up a case where CHIII seriously contends for the win this week. Charles kicked off the year with his obligatory top-8 finish at Waialae, but from there he went all the way at Torrey Pines, shooting a final round 68 to finish 3 back from Jon Rahm. July then saw Howell again in contention at TPC Potomac which turned into a ball-strikers paradise. Howell again finished strongly and a Sunday 66 took him into a playoff with Kyle Stanley. That was Howell's first playoff since PGA West in 2013 and only his second since Riviera 2007, where he beat Phil Mickelson to record his 2nd and last PGA Tour victory. Bringing things forward to the new season, Charles played well in Korea and 15th in the WGC-HSBC Champions must again boost his confidence when arriving at one of his favourite courses on Tour. Let's remember that Pat Perez won here last year ending a 7-year winless drought and that the average winning age here is 35. 11 coastal top-10s since the start of 2012 suggest he's one to follow this week. RESULT: T4
Ollie Schniederjans WD pre-event
Ollie Schniederjans appeals this week at a test where strong ball-striking allied to a hot putter tends to be an excellent combination. Form since the 2017/18 season has kicked off reads 17(Silverado)-23(TPC Kuala Lumpur)-19(Nine Bridges) which is encouraging and Ollie already sits 44th in Ball Striking and 30th in Birdie Average across the embryonic season PGA Tour skill categories. Within his 3 appearances to date there have been encouraging signs, with Ollie sitting 7th after 54 holes on his first visit to Malaysia and 10th after 36 holes in South Korea, but as yet a full 72 hole performance hasn't been seen - however I wouldn't be surprised to see the Georgia Tech product get right into the mix at El Camaleon this week. Yes he missed the cut here 12 months ago, but that was the fourth of 4 straight missed cuts for the then rookie. Since then though his true quality has started to show and if we scratch the surface, results seem very positive from a correlating course perspective.
As an amateur Ollie finished 12th at the 2015 Open Championship hosted at St Andrews and that coastal liking continues to this day. In his first web.com season last year, Schniederjans finished 2nd at the coastal TPC Cartagena set-up in Columbia on Paspalum putting surfaces. He then landed his first PGA Tour top-10 finish last November at Sea Island. 2017 has seen 27th at Waialae, 9th at Torrey Pines and 3rd at Harbour Town. Ollie is also growing in stature when it comes to handling being in contention and that was clear to see at Sedgefield back in August where he gave Henrik Stenson all he could handle at the Wyndham Championship. Up 77 places in 2017 to 110th in the OWGR, the 24 year-old is making rapid progress and it's interesting to note that Schniederjans, who is renowned for his ball-striking, sits 15th in my 10-week rolling Putting Average window.
At an event where birdies are going to be a key currency, Bryson DeChambeau may well be worth investing in this week. He already ranks 50th for Birdie Average in the embryonic PGA Tour statistics and that's without the luxury of playing in Malaysia at the CIMB Classic where most of the players in the upper echelons played. DeChambeau is an undoubted talent who will want to be playing in the Major Championships in 2018. Naturally his win at the John Deere Classic in July, which included 24 Birdies and a -18/266 winning total, sees Bryson with a guaranteed 2018 Augusta invitation, but it also highlights a player who can go low when the course allows. 9th for Ball Striking, 12th for Strokes Gained Off the tee and 12th for Strokes Gained on Approach are the kind of skill-set positives that we want to see heading into El Camaleon. DeChambeau also has some previous on coastal tracks: 2nd at the 2015 UNIQLO Masters played at Huntingdale in the coastal suburbs of Melbourne, Australia was the first time that Bryson jumped into the thoughts of most golf punters and from there a strong Augusta debut in 2016 was followed the week after by a fast-finishing 4th place at Harbour Town. In late March this year, DeChambeau also travelled to Puerto Rico where he took an instant liking to the Coco Beach coastal set-up and the Paspalum greens where he was 9th for Putting Average. 2nd to an inspired D.A. Points that week was no mean feat and when the flat stick is compliant the Dallas, Texas resident is a real danger. It was interesting to note that the putter truly fired on Sunday where DeChambeau finished like a train to grab a top-10 finish and if that continues he's likely to enjoy his second look at El Camaleon. RESULT: T14
Sung Kang could be a real danger this week. I tipped him up at 50/1 at the CJ Cup where the pressure seemingly got to him. The week after the CJ Cup, Kang stayed in his homeland for the KJ Choi Invitational played at Jeongsan Country Club. A stunning final round -6/66 placed Kang in a play-off where across a 4-hole marathon he was eventually beaten into 2nd place. So I was surprised to see such a good price about the talented 30 year-old who sits at an interesting 78th in the OWGR. 3rd at the CIMB Classic and 2nd in the KJ Choi Invitational both in October shouts value to me and there are other strong points I really like this week. 50th in Birdie Average and 18th in Putting from 5-15 feet in the embryonic PGA Tour statistics tell a story and Kang's record at El Camaleon specifically and in Mexico in general is interesting. Opening rounds of 67-67 placed Kang in 2nd place here after 36 holes on course debut way back in 2011 and he was still 6th going into the final round. In 14 El Camaleon rounds Sung-hoon has shot in the 60s 9 times and you just get the feeling that Kang is a far more confident player these days. He also finished 6th in the 2015 web.com Mexico Championship so clearly gets on with the country and, if we want more coastal links, his amazing round of 60 at Spyglass Hill in the 2016 AT&T Pebble Beach Invitational should be taken into account. 2017 has seen Sung-hoon finish 2nd in Houston, where he was beaten by Russell Henley, and Kang was also in the heat of the battle at TPC Potomac when a rainstorm and no wet gear destroyed his momentum - he eventually finished 5th. RESULT: MC
I'll finish with Brian Stuard who clearly gets El Camaleon and who's undoubtedly on the upward trend. Stuard is a typical case of a PGA Tour journeyman who certainly dined out on his 2016 Zurich Classic of New Orleans victory. A streaky scorer who clearly thrives on Bermudagrass and Paspalum putting surfaces, 2017 saw Brian finish no better than 16th at TPC Scottsdale in singles competition and 8 straight missed cuts to close the season highlights the confidence slump the 34 year-old was in. However the wrap-around season can clearly help to re-balance the equation with Brian earning 3 pay cheques across 3 outings. 4th on his beloved Bermudagrass greens at the Sanderson Farms Championship was powered by 18 birdies (8th best in the field) and Stuard was also in the mix last week in Las Vegas where a Saturday round of -2/69 placed the Fort Worth, Texas resident into 10th spot come Sunday. 4th in my 10-week Greens in Regulation tracker and 18th in the embryonic PGA Tour ball-striking category, Brian is playing some great stuff from tee-to-green right now and that could be perfect as he arrives at a course where he has finished runner-up twice in both 2011 and 2013, placing in the top 10 for Putts per Round on both occasions. RESULT: T9
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