This is my week. For the first time since I began writing tournament previews at the start of 2021, we head to a golf course that I have actually played before: El Camaleon Golf Club! I will highlight my experiences playing here 3 months ago in this article and will be drawing from my course history in part to handicap the 2022 World Wide Technology Championship at Mayakoba (formerly the OHL Mayakoba Classic).
This event may catch casual golf fans by surprise in the middle of the Fall Swing, sandwiched by weak field birdie fests, but it’s actually one of the strongest fields we’ve seen since the summer, and likely the strongest field we’ve ever seen at Mayakoba. 7 of the Top 20 OWGR players will be teeing it up this week, highlighted by stars like Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka, Patrick Reed, Viktor Hovland, and Tony Finau. It’s also a Mexico homecoming for Carlos Ortiz and Abraham Ancer who are sure to draw massive crowds all week, not unlike what we saw with Hideki Matsuyama at the ZOZO Championship a few weeks ago.
There is no course on the PGA Tour that puts greater emphasis on Driving Accuracy than El Camaleon, so I’ll be looking heavily at Fairways Gained + SG: OTT when running models this week. Once you’re past your first shot, the course is mostly guarded from wind by the trees of the jungle, and the greens are fairly large and receptive, so middling approach players can contend here. We’ve seen Paspalam greens level the playing field for weak and strong putters alike, and aside from the many bunkers on property, there really isn’t much to the greenside complexes to complicate scrambling for the field. All that to say, there’s a lot of different types of players who can win here as long as they have control of their driver, so it’s a week to either load up on your favorite players, or chase the best value you can find. Here’s a look at everything you can expect at the 2022 World Wide Technology Championship at Mayakoba.
El Camaleon Golf Club Course Specs
- Yards: 6,982
- Par: 71 (4x 3’s / 11x 4’s / 3x 5’s)
- Greens: Paspalam
- Architect: Greg Norman
- Historical Cut Line: -1
- Median Score 4-round Score: -9 (21), -6 (20), -11 (19), -6 (18), -9 (17)
- Comp Courses: Waialae CC, Pebble Beach, Harbour Town, Coco Beach, Sea Island GC, Sedgefield CC, TPC Sawgrass, PGA National, Corales
- Recent Past Winners: Viktor Hovland (21), Brendon Todd (20), Matt Kuchar (19), Patton Kizzire (18), Pat Perez (17)
- Other Past Winners In The Field: Graeme McDowell (16), Charley Hoffman (15), John Huh (13), Brian Gay (08)
A lot of birdie fests are described as “second shot courses”. Meaning you can’t really get yourself into too much trouble off the tee and distance isn’t a huge advantage. Basically anywhere that Webb Simpson has found repeated success is probably a second shot course. El Camaleon is a first shot course. Distance is not a must here, and there are several forced layup holes that will ask players to take less than driver. But if you miss the fairway here, you’re in big trouble. There is practically no rough on the property, so anything that misses the fairway is either OB in a dense jungle, or at the bottom of a canal which runs throughout several holes on the course. A look down the top Driving Accuracy players in this field is very reminiscent of the best course history players at Mayakoba; the Top 10 Driving Accuracy players entering this week are: Chez Reavie, Brendon Todd, Brian Stuard, Kyle Stanley, Ryan Moore, Brice Garnett, Kramer Hickok, Russel Henley, Martin Laird, and Kevin Streelman.
In terms of Course History, Russell Knox leads the way despite having not won here yet. In 7 trips, he has never finished worse than T37, with highlights of T2, T3, and T9 in recent years. Knox represents a steady trend of success at Mayakoba from reliable fairway finders who typically lose strokes on the greens, but (presumably without ShotLink) have been able to sink more putts than usual on this grainless Paspalam grass. Emiliano Grillo is #2 in Course History here, fitting that exact same mold, and Aaron Wise also finished T2 here last year to go along with a T10 in 2019. With these smooth, “easy to read” greens, there’s also an advantage for the elite putters in the field, as there are really no surprises; if you strike a putt well, it should hold its line here. In that sense, we’ve seen two very opposite sides of the putting spectrum take down this tournament, with Brendon Todd, Matt Kuchar, Patton Kizzire, and Pat Perez recently taking this tournament down for the Putting Specialists, while Viktor Hovland won last year for Team No Putt (Maybe we bump Vik to Team Sometimes Putts?). All of that to say, I’m looking for the extremes of great putters and terrible putters this week.
The Top 10 players in terms of SG: TOT at Mayakoba are Russell Knox, Billy Horschel, Brice Garnett, Adam Long, Emiliano Grillo, Rickie Fowler, Charles Howell III, Pat Perez, Brendon Todd, and Carlos Ortiz. For the most part, these are all players who are reliable fairway finders off the tee. Looking at recent results over the last 5 years, 11 players have multiple T10 finishes here: Pat Perez, Emiliano Grillo, Charles Howell III, Russell Knox, Billy Horschel, Abraham Ancer, Carlos Ortiz, Adam Long, Scott Piercy, Brendon Todd and Aaron Wise.
In terms of comp courses, you can take your pick of any of the Caribbean/island resort courses, many of them featuring the same Paspalam greens. Port Royal, host of last week’s Bermuda Championship, is a decent comp as a short, fairly easy scoring course, though it is significantly more exposed to wind and more forgiving off the tee than El Camaleon is. The best comps for this week as far as I’ve seen are Waialae CC, Harbour Town, and Sea Island, given the short, easy scoring conditions and emphasis on driving accuracy. The Top 10 players in total comp course history are Abraham Ancer, Emiliano Grillo, Billy Horschel, Russell Henley, Viktor Hovland, Matt Jones, Brooks Koepka, Shane Lowry, Brian Harman, and Joaquin Niemann.
Lessons Learned From Playing El Camaleon
I am an 8 handicap who played from the Blue Tees (~6,600 yards, one up from the Tips) with rental clubs. Before playing El Camaleon this past July, Bethpage Black and Glen Oaks were the only PGA Tour courses I’d ever played before. So all of this to say, the things that jumped out at me about this course may not be as notable for the pros. For example, I bladed an 8 iron on the Par 3 8th hole, positioning me in a bed of flowers behind a tree, en route to a double bogey. That’s probably not an intended hazard on the course, and not something the pros will have to deal with, so I’m going to omit it from the learnings below.
- The course and facilities are all beautiful
- I got a par streak from holes 13-15
- I parred the #1 handicap, hole #14
- I did not lose every ball I came with
- I did not drive it into the cave on hole 7
I’m not surprised the field this week is as loaded as it is. Riviera Maya is an awesome place to stay, especially with family, and Mayakoba is one of the most luxurious places you can stay in Riviera Maya. I did not stay there, but just by shuttling through the property to get to the course, it’s easy to tell. The clubhouse is state of the art, the practice facilities are awesome, the course all around is just beautiful. I’m sure after Viktor Hovland and Justin Thomas played this course for the first time last year, they fired up the group chat and got all their friends to come through the following year.
In terms of how I did, not great, but okay! The 14th hole is the hardest hole on the course. It’s 450 yards surrounded by water and trees with a tight green. I hit my best drive of the day, 300 yards in the fairway (below), gave myself a 40-footer for birdie, and had a tap in par. I don’t care that I shot 88 with 4 doubles and 5 lost balls, I got a par on the #1 handicap.
- I shot 88
- I lost 5 balls (3 within the first 4 holes, 1 sliced into the jungle on my very first tee shot)
- I had 4 double bogeys
- I missed a 7-footer for Birdie on the Par 3 15th
- I had 0 1-putts
- I was attacked by a pack of sloth/monkey/anteaters on 16 and finished double-double on my final two holes
Let me start with #6. I bought a granola bar from the cart girl on the 16th hole tee box. It was an instant regret because (1) we only had 3 holes left and I really wasn’t that hungry (2) it was like $10 for the granola bar and (3) it didn’t even taste good. But anyway, we were backed up waiting on the tee with nothing else to do so I bought the granola bar. I took one bite of it, didn’t love it, and set it down in the golf cart seat next to me as I drove up to my ball to hit my second shot. We’d gotten a ton of rain the days before, so it was cart path only. So I park the golf cart and walk on up to the middle of the fairway (subtle flex) to hit my second shot. As soon as I step outside the golf cart, this pack of creatures immediately emerge from the jungle, hop in my cart, and steal my granola bar. They left in peace, but seriously, what are these things?!
My game is bomb & gauge. I don’t think strategically about angles when I tee it up, and I rarely club down or layup to find fairways. If I did those things, I would’ve saved myself 4-5 strokes and 4-5 golf balls, but that is not the life I choose to live on the golf course. So it’s a poor course fit for me, and my lack of success is consistent with the other bombers who have tried to overpower this course in Mayakoba Classics of the past.
What I Learned
- You have to be in control of your ball off the tee
- Don’t play rentals at a really nice PGA Tour course
- Mayakoba – the course, the property, the facilities, the clubhouse – is absolutely stunning
When I finished my round, the very first thought that came into my head was “This course would be an absolute nightmare for Patton Kizzire” because of how many golf balls I lost on wayward tee shots into the jungle. Unbeknownst to me at the time, he actually won here in 2017. There’s no ShotLink data in Mexico, so we don’t know exactly how he pulled that off, but I can guarantee this is not a course he is capable of gaining strokes off the tee on, and that he must’ve gotten a scorching hot putter to compensate. Outside of that win, Kizzire has never finished inside the Top 30 here, so I still stand by the notion that if you routinely lose strokes OTT, you are not going to get right here. I choose to blame my 39 total putts and zero 1-putts on the blade rental putter I played with, as well as my general stance as an objectively bad putter. The greens were flat and smooth, and I don’t expect them to give the pros much trouble. Here’s what my final scorecard looked like:
- Driving Accuracy / SG: OTT
- SG: APP
- Opportunities Gained
- SG: P
- SG: T2G (<7,200 Yards)
- Course & Comp Course History
This course all boils down to OTT, and Driving Accuracy specifically. That was my overarching impression after playing it, and then I saw this course fit chart from Data Golf.
I was wrong in leaning on Driving Accuracy at Port Royal last week, but this week, with a significant sample size of course history, it is objectively crucial to get yourself in position consistently off the tee. There are 7 players who rate out Top 30 in both SG: OTT and Driving Accuracy: Abraham Ancer, Emiliano Grillo, Brice Garnett, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Tyler Duncan, Mito Pereira, and Kyle Stanley. Given that drives that miss the fairway will be nearly unplayable, I think Good Drives Gained is a misleading stat I’ll be looking to avoid.
After OTT, there are many ways to find success here, and you really don’t need to excel in any area in particular between APP, ARG, and P to shine here. Since it’s a relatively easy course where putts are easier to convert, I’ll be looking closely at Opportunities Gained. The Top 10 players in that stat are: Russell Henley, Justin Thomas, Carlos Ortiz, Mito Pereira, Viktor Hovland, Jhonattan Vegas, Emiliano Grillo, Kevin Streelman, Hudson Swafford, and Chez Reavie.
Taking each of the above key categories into account, there are just 6 players who rate out above average in SG: OTT, Fairways Gained, Opportunities Gained, SG: APP, and SG: TOT (Comp Courses): Carlos Ortiz, Abraham Ancer, Viktor Hovland, Emiliano Grillo, Joel Dahmen, Aaron Wise, and Doug Ghim.
Spotlight: Russell Henley
Abraham Ancer is the obvious choice here. He’s playing in front of his home fans in Mexico, has very good course history, the best comp course history, and what he does best (hitting fairways), is what you need most on this course. Abe is always popular and even after disappointing as chalk at the Shriners, he’ll still probably be the most popular DFS and betting play yet again this week. So you already know that, I’m not gonna expand any further. Instead, I’m talking about Russell Henley.
I know we all hate him after his historical collapse at the Wyndham Championship that kept us from hitting the biggest community win of the year. But that collapse was actually just divine intervention necessary to fulfil Kevin Kisner’s destiny to win that tournament. I will not hold Henley accountable for a greater power’s work, and I can understand that as part of that plan, it’s Mayakoba that Henley was actually meant to win.
The course history hasn’t quite materialized for Henley at El Camaleon, but his success at all of the comps (a win at Waialae CC and multiple T10s at Sedgefield and Sea Island) suggest he is due for a breakout here, and possibly at an odds discount. Henley rates out 4th in my model this week, as he tends to do, thanks to ranks of #1 in Opportunities Gained & SG: APP, and Top 10 in Fairways Gained, Comp Course History, and Short Course History. With Henley, we know he’s going to hit fairways and strike his irons pure. The putting has been volatile, and in a bit of a tailspin since the collapse at Wyndham, but smooth Paspalam greens should be the remedy he needs to get himself back on track with the rest of the game exactly where it needs to be to contend at Mayakoba.
What To Look Out For at the 2022 World Wide Technology Championship at Mayakoba
New sponsor, same tournament, as we get ready for Paspalam Prince, Viktor Hovland’s title defense. Last year, Carlos Ortiz was a popular player to follow as he returned to his home country in Mexico one week after securing his first career win at the Houston Open. This year, Abraham Ancer also returns home to Mexico after picking up his first career win earlier in the season, and he’ll have great expectations to put on a show in front of the home crowd, just as Hideki showed in Japan.
With all the course fit profiles in mind this week, I’m leaning early towards the below player pool, broken out by projected pricing/odds tier.
For my model this week, I’m putting a premium on Comp Course History, Fairways Gained, and SG: OTT, followed by a more balanced mix of SG: APP, Opportunities Gained, Short Course History, and SG: P. Tops in the model, as mentioned is the chalk of the week, Abraham Ancer. After Ancer, my model’s Top 10 is rounded out by Viktor Hovland, Emiliano Grillo, Russell Henley, Joel Dahmen, Justin Thomas, Brendon Todd, Kevin Streelman, Aaron Wise, and Keegan Bradley.