The Mayakoba Classic 2020 betting preview

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The Mayakoba Classic has maintained its spot in the Fall rotation in this altered 2020 schedule for the PGA Tour, although it was eventually pushed back into December to accommodate other events. The event itself originated as a regular stop on Tour during February of 2007 (and was recently known under the OHL Classic moniker) but was eventually moved to November in 2013 where it has enjoyed better weather. The event is staged at El Camaleon, a golf resort course that is located in between Playa del Carmen and Cancun, two popular tourist destinations in Mexico, and does sit on the coast on a peninsula almost right in between the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico. 

The event has never been a star-studded affair and is often dominated by players coming in off the Korn Ferry Tour and some wily Tour veterans who have come to enjoy the warm weather and the venue, which really caters well to experienced players. In fact, Mayakoba has truly become a stop for late-career wins of late with three of the last five winners here being over the age of 38. Matt Kuchar, Pat Perez and Graeme McDowell have all picked up wins here in the last five years as their lack of distance has not hindered one bit at El Camaleon, which tends to place a bigger premium on experience and savvy on and around the greens. Last year’s winner Brendon Todd also picked up a win here last season, the third of his career and second of the 2019 Fall season. 

When it comes down to it, winning in Mexico has often been about momentum too. Players who have picked up wins here in the past five years were all active in the Fall swing and three of the last four winners here had picked up a top-10 finish in their previous start. We do have a different schedule this year though and bigger names are involved for 2020. Both Brooks Koepka and Justin Thomas are in the field here–playing this event for the second time each in their respective careers–and both are coming in off of top-10 finishes at the Masters. Other players who played well at Augusta and are coming into this week with some momentum include the likes of Sebastian Munoz, Abraham Ancer and Corey Conners. All three of those players finished inside the top-25 in their debuts at Augusta and also posted their best ever finishes at a major just three weeks ago. With a field that isn’t super deep, one of those three could easily end up riding that momentum here to one more big week before the year officially ends. 

Geoff previews the Mayakoba Classic

Mayakoba Classic course details

El Camaleon, Riviera Maya, Mexico

Par 71, 6,987 yards

  • Greens: Paspalum 
  • Design: Greg Norman
  • Past Champions 
    • 2019 – Brendon Todd (20-under par)
    • 2018 – Matt Kuchar (22-under par)
    • 2017 – Patton Kizzire (19-under par)

As you can see by the scores of the past few winners here, this event has truly devolved into a pure shootout. Early winners of this event had to deal with poorer weather and healthier winds in February, leading to much higher scoring, but the move to the Fall has seen scoring go super low here. Brendon Todd led the field in birdies here last season and also finished inside the top-5 in Greens in Regulation stats and Scrambling. We don’t have Strokes Gained data this week since it is a foreign event (ie no shot tracker for scoring) but we know Todd ranked just 25th in Driving Accuracy and all the way down in 79th in Driving Distance last year, which should tell you a lot–mainly that what you do off the tee doesn’t matter a ton.

El Camaleon does feature quite a few hazards throughout the course but they’re pretty easy to avoid if you’re semi-conservative off the tee. Players here tend to “club-down” more off the tee, as a result, and choose placement over power. It’s been the calling card of most of the winners here as Greens are easy to hold, form longer out, and the field here has averaged 2-5% higher GIR %’s most seasons over the Tour average. 

The greens are unique in that they use Paspalum grass which is popular in tropical/resort courses and generally plays slower than typical greens the players see when on the mainland USA. Other events that feature this kind of grass include the old CIMB Classic, which used to be held in the Fall out in Malaysia–and has been won by Justin Thomas, Pat Perez and Marc Leishman–and the Puerto Rico Open. Both of those events/courses are likely good comparables to this week given the settings. 

The setup here does feature a lot of scoring holes with all three of the Par 5’s representing great birdie chances as none play longer than 554 yards. The Par 3’s here also tend to be simpler than most PGA setups as three of the four measure in at 160-yards or less. Wind can make them tricky but, as mentioned previously, this event doesn’t get a ton of wind this time of year. The Par 4’s are where the challenges, if any, will come from for the players this week as five of the Par 4’s do measure in over 450-yards. Strong Par 4 scorers here have done well at this event and for that reason the venue also compares favourably with events like the Sony Open and the old FedEx St. Jude Classic event (both feature classic Par 70 courses) before it got turned into a WGC. 

Past winners here like Harris English, Matt Kuchar and Patton Kizzire have all also picked up wins at places like Waialae CC (Sony Open), TPC Southwind (FedEX St. Jude) and the Harbour Town GL (RBC Heritage). Those are just some of the good comparables to El Camaleon, and all of the previously mentioned courses all also tend to bring a large portion of the field into play.  The bottom line is that a good week with the irons and putter here can generally overcome any deficiencies a player is having off the tee, so don’t linger too long on Off the Tee stats if you’re into that sort of thing for research. 

RSM Classic betting discussion and picks

From an odds perspective, here is where the last winner of this event generally went off, from an outright perspective, pre-event for the year of their win:

  • 2019 – Brendon Todd +5000
  • 2018 – Matt Kuchar +5000
  • 2017 – Patton Kizzire +6600

As you can see, veteran players who have been slightly discounted in the outright odds department here have provided very good returns the last few seasons. Even if we go back further into 2016 and 2015, we find names like Pat Perez and Graeme McDowell popping up, players who certainly weren’t trending towards the top of the odds department. One thing most of these players had in common was that they were trending with some kind of form prior to winning here. Three of the last five winners had recorded top-10 finishers in the event just prior to their win here and each of the past five had been in solid form in the Fall. The bottom line here, don’t be afraid to back a vet and don’t discount someone who has been trending well in the Fall, even if their name doesn’t carry big star appeal (Todd’s certainly didn’t last Fall). 

Betting favorites to win the 2020 Mayakoba Classic

Justin Thomas +650

I’m almost never going to entertain a +650 outright bet in a full field event like this one. Thomas does have a great record of coming to these easier courses in the Fall/Winter and just pummeling the competition though. He has wins at the Sony Open, CIMB Classic and TOC in Maui from the beginning of 2020. As a player who has finished T8 or better in four of his last five starts, including top-10’s at the last two majors, he deserves favorite status but there’s no value in taking him in the outright department.

Brooks Koepka +1200

Despite Brooks being double the odds of JT, I’m not much more bullish on him this week from an outright perspective. Koepka has  definitely played well in his last two starts though. A T5 at Houston was followed up nicely at Augusta where he hung around the pack of chasers for a while and stayed up nicely on Sunday, ultimately shooting four rounds under Par. Still, the result there makes it seem like he was in contention, which he wasn’t, and his main weapon–his driver–isn’t going to provide him with the edge this week that it usually does at various other venues. I’m intrigued by his chances but not enough to bet him at odds that seem to be saying he’s nearly all the way back after just one or two decent starts.

Harris English +1600

English has had a phenomenal 2020 and if you’ve read my column this year you know I obviously have appreciated the way he’s played as he’s been included in the bets numerous times. Not hitting a Harris outright stings a little but I’m not going to go chasing him here at these odds, even if he is coming off a 62 at the RSM Classic and is a former winner of this event (way back in 2013). Maybe if you find a sportsbook who put him up at +2000 I would consider it but we’ve reached the top so to speak here and I’ll be fine waiting for better opportunities in 2021. 

Daniel Berger +1900

We haven’t seen Berger for a couple of weeks as he chose to take a short break after his T17 finish at the Zozo Championship last month. The break made sense as the American had no chance of gaining entry into the November Masters as the field was set way back in April when Berger still lingered outside the world’s top-50 and hadn’t gained his win at Colonial yet. Normally this is a course you’d want to target Berger at and I think he’s probably offering fair odds, and perhaps the best of the top players this week to target for an outright. That said, we haven’t seen him play for a month now and winner’s here lately have been all about Fall momentum. It’s enough for me to stay off him. 

Favorite bets (each-ways and outrights)

For more info on types of golf bets available each week, be sure to check out more info here. Each way bets refer to bets that include a bet to win and a bet to place (usually to at least top-5 but sometimes are available up to top-8 or more).

Abraham Ancer +2200 or better (outright)

Maybe the home country narrative does play a factor with Ancer this week, but regardless of why you’re backing him here I do agree that this makes for a great place for him to pick up his first PGA win. Ancer’s Mexican descent gets him on the interest list right off the bat but his style of game and recent form are the real factors here for me. He’s coming off his best finish ever in a major championship (T13 at the Masters) and ranked second in the field at Augusta in Greens in Regulation. When Ancer has had his approach game working he’s produced some brilliant ball-striking weeks and had one of the best approach performances of the season at the RBC Heritage, where he ultimately finished solo 2nd. 

Ancer’s been a little up and down since then, but he’s shown great form with his putter and around the green, and comes in ranked 18th in SG:PUTT over the last 50-rounds. He may not be a wily veteran just yet but he’s played this event multiple times now and placed inside the top-10 here in two of the past three years. Now coming off a week at Augusta where he was inside the top-5 at a major going into the final round, you have to figure the confidence built from that outing will be helpful here. This is a player overly ready to win in my mind and taking a shot on him, at admittedly reduced odds is OK here in my mind given both the setup and circumstances of him playing in his home country this week. 

Marc Leishman +4000 or better (outright)

Like Ancer, Leishman is another player who may be able to ride some momentum here to a big week after a solid showing at Augusta. Despite suffering through quite possibly the worst slump of his career this Summer and Fall, Leishman was still grinding things out and shockingly seemed to get something right finally at one of the toughest and trickiest venues in the world in Augusta. The Aussie’s T13 there was his best finish on Tour since a 2nd place at the Arnold Palmer in March (pre-Covid) and he struck the ball well by all accounts at Augusta ranking fifth in GIR %, while hitting over 76% of the fairways. The results were a far cry from what he’d been doing before and his 67 to close on Sunday was also one of the best rounds of the day. 

Leishman is a former winner in the Fall swing at the now defunct CIMB Classic which, as mentioned previously, was also a birdie-fest that featured soft Paspalum greens. He’s now won five-times on Tour so when we’re getting a talented player like him, in a thinner field, at these types of odds we should almost always start thinking about investing. At these prices, I see little downside to backing him here as an each-way as he’d normally be half these odds if he’d been showing more solid form and he’s proven to more than adept over his career at low scoring events like the one we’re getting here. 

Alex Noren +6000 or better (each-way)

Noren fits the veteran mold I described earlier, almost to a fault this week. The now 38-year-old has been grinding out decent results all season but hasn’t quite been able to find enough consistency to get himself deep in contention, outside of one top-5 at the 3M Open in Minnesota. The Swede comes into this week ranked 11th in SG: Putting and Around the Green stats over the last 50-rounds so he’s certainly displayed the sharpness needed there to win an event. The concern with Noren has been consistency in ball-striking, mainly off the tee, where he’s typically faltered. 

The course itself will likely fix many woes here for Noren though, as we’ve seen perennial Off the Tee laggards like Perez and Todd do magic things at El Camaleon. There’s also the fact that Noren actually struck the ball quite well his last time out, gaining over +1-strokes on approach and off the tee on his way to a T18 finish at the RSM Classic. He’s got Fall momentum, a game that sets up well and palatable betting odds. I like the multi-time Euro winner a lot this week as an each-way target. 

Joel Dahmen +6600 or better (each-way)

Dahmen made my final bet here as I think he’s another player quite likely to break free for a win at some point soon. The 32-year-old has flashed tremendous upside at various points in his career as he owns a solo 2nd place at the Wells Fargo event from 2019 and has numerous other top-10 finishes on the PGA to build off now, including a T8 at the Zozo Championship just two starts ago. Dahmen’s finish there is also more interesting when you consider that he was actually trending towards a big week at the RSM before a final round meltdown sent him home in T50. Prior to that, he’d shot a 61 on Friday at Sea Island (the best round of the event) and was trending well in all categories before faltering. 

The final round hiccups may worry some, but for me it has just created a good betting opportunity as Dahmen’s odds here seem a touch too inflated. He finished T6 at this venue last year and also has solid finishes at events like the John Deere (T2) and Sony Open (T12) which correlate well in terms of setup and field. He’s a solid mid-tier value and that’s the tier from which we’ve seen most winners strike here the past few seasons. 

Long Shots and Top-20’s

Kyle Stanley +12500 or better (each-way and +450 top 20)

Stanley had an absolutely killer week with his irons at the RSM Classic, gaining +8.1-strokes on his approaches alone there. I’m not super convinced he’ll be able to sink enough putts to win this week, but he’s also available at way bigger odds than I thought I’d see him at. He was also T3 at Puerto Rico earlier this year, which also features Paspalum greens. As I said earlier, players tend to ride the momentum to wins at this event and Stanley definitely has some right now. 

Wes Bryan +17500 or better (each-way and +800 top 20)

I liked Bryan as a target in Bermuda a couple of events ago as he sets up great for these second shot courses where poor off the tee play isn’t penalised much. He’s gained +2.5 strokes on his approaches in five of his last seven starts coming in here and we get him at a big discount this week due to the one missed cut. Bryan is playing on a major medical exemption so every start counts for him right now and at these odds the each-way and top-20 bets make way too much sense. 


Tournament Matchups 

Daniel Berger (-109) over Russell Henley 

I think taking the Berger side of this bet is the correct play long term and with him coming off a rest and Henley looking a touch tired, he’s a solid bet here. Henley’s obviously had a great year too but he’s cooled off a touch of late and if he’s not bringing the same kind of consistency we saw with his putter earlier in the Fall there’s not much reason to take him against a top-20 player in the world. A rested Berger should have a solid week here and at odds like this he really does make for a solid bet given he’s the player with better pure upside.

Joel Dahmen (-109) over Chez Reavie

As I wrote above, Dahmen seems to be getting a touch disrespected in the odds this week. This is a player who recorded a 61 in his last event and also finished inside the top-10 in a stacked, limited-field event, just two starts ago. Chez has been playing OK, and is striking it well, but other than making cuts he’s really not doing much and has now lost multiple strokes putting in four straight starts. He may need a huge turnaround with that club to beat Dahmen here who has proven he can go low enough to challenge in events like this one numerous times already.

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Geoff Ulrich has been involved in the daily fantasy and sports betting world as a writer for some time now. His focus has always been on the NFL, PGA and NHL, and he enjoys breaking down the more complex subjects of the gambling and fantasy sports world into simpler terms for his readers. An inquisitive person by nature, you can often find him on twitter (@thefantasygrind) tilting his latest bet or going over his favorite plays for the upcoming NFL or Golf slates.