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The PGA tour is heading outside of the United States again this week with Mexico the destination in question.
Once an alternate event to the WGC-World Matchplay, the event now has its own slot in the PGA tour schedule, but sadly the field is still amongst the weakest we will see all season and Ben Martin is the highest ranked player in the field courtesy of his recent win.
The host course, as ever, is the par-71, 6,987 yard El Camaleon which was designed by Greg Norman. Despite the victory of Harris English last year, recent leaderboards generally point very much in the direction of accuracy off the tee as a key attribute here. Course form, or indeed knowledge, doesn’t seem to carry the same weight, however, with each of the last three winners doing so on their El Camaleon debuts.
In terms of narrowing down a shortlist, I believe there are two course links worth studying – TPC Southwind (host of the FedEx St Jude Classic) and Kuala Lumpur Golf Club (host of the CIMB Classic). Harris English won at the former track six months before his victory here at El Camaleon, and 2011 winner Johnson Wagner had finished 12th there in the season before his win here. There are many other examples that rubber-stamp this link with Jason Bohn, Rory Sabbatini, Justin Hicks and Robert Karlsson all laying claim to good recent form at TPC Southwind ahead of their strong performances here 12 months ago.
Kuala Lumpur Golf Club is a slightly different challenge, but plays to a very similar yardage to El Camaleon as well as housing greens with the same grass type in the shape of Seashore Paspalum. We only have one year of evidence to back up a possible link, but Harris English had finished in a tie for 7th in Kuala Lumpur two weeks before his win here last year, and Chris Stroud turned up towards the top of both leaderboards.
Rory Sabbatini is a player with recent form on both of the aforementioned tracks having finished in a tie for 7th at TPC Southwind 6 months ago and a tie for 8th two weeks ago at Kuala Lumpur Golf Club, so he ticks the right boxes here. Furthermore, Sabbatini has finished in the top-5 in two of three visits to El Camaleon so he clearly likes something about this Greg Norman layout. Sabbatini comes here off the back of a week off, so his confidence should be on the up after his top-10 finish in Kuala Lumpur last time out.
It’s something that affects some players better than others, but there is recent evidence of players being spurred on by fellow countrymen winning, and maybe Nick Taylor’s win last week will give David Hearn the boost he needs to get over the line himself. The Canadian played well at the Country Club of Jackson last week, closing with a 67 to turn in a finish of tied 14th and his previous outing comes in the shape of a top-10 finish at TPC Summerlin, so his game is clearly in very good shape. The 35-year-old is an accurate driver of the ball and should improve on his best finish of 35th at El Camaleon.
Whilst I can’t draw on the aforementioned course links for Will MacKenzie, but he’s a player who very much warrants inclusion this week. The two-time PGA tour winner played some of his best golf at the beginning of last season and he has started the 2014-15 season off in a similar vein having finished runner-up finish at the McGladrey Classic on his penultimate start. The 40-year-old finished in a tie for 12th in his last visit to El Camaleon and generally excels in weaker fields, so given his current ranking of 3rd in Strokes Gained Tee-to-Green, he looks a tempting each-way proposition.
Andrew Svoboda has managed a few near-misses in his relatively short PGA tour career – most notably finishing runner-up in last season’s Zurich Classic of New Orleans, but I firmly believe his time will come, and a weak field like this presents an excellent opportunity for the 35-year-old to break through. One of Svoboda’s best finishes of last season came in the FedEx St Jude Classic where he finished in a tie for 6th, and I’m not too perturbed by his missed cut on his El Camaleon debut, especially as it featured a second-round 68.
He may bit of a wildcard, admittedly, but Carlos Ortiz clearly possesses bags of talent having won three times on the web.com tour last season, so what’s not to like at a triple-figure price in this type of field? Two of Ortiz’ three wins came in Central America (here in Mexico and in Panama), and he obviously feels comfortable in this part of the world as a Mexican himself. Although his early PGA tour form may not set pulses racing, he certainly showed promise in his top-20 finish at TPC Summerlin, and as a great driver of the ball he looks an interesting outsider here.
The PGA tour is back in the United States this week for the Sanderson Farms Championship whilst some of the bigger names in
world golf head to China for the HSBC-Champions tournament.
Last hosted in 2013, the tournament remains in Mississippi but has switched from its long-term host of Annandale Golf Club to the Country Club of Jackson. Dick Wilson (of Bay Hill and Doral fame) originally designed the course, but it was remodelled six years ago by John Fought and will play to a par of 72 and a yardage of 7,354 this week.
With the course having not hosted any previous tour events, we have nothing to go on in terms of course form. However, the course flyover gives us a good idea of the traditional style of the layout, and the club themselves talk of the course “incorporating classic Donald Ross flavor” which is another handy pointer. With little in the way of trouble off the tee and four lengthy par-5 holes to negotiate, it’s not unreasonable to expect the big-hitting contingent to be at an advantage this week, and we can also expect similarly low scoring to previous editions of this event.
Not averse to low-scoring conditions having captured the Shriners Hospitals Open with a 19-under-par winning total, Martin Laird has been playing some great golf at the start of the new season. As well as coming close to winning the Frys.com Open at Silverado, Laird held the lead going into the weekend at TPC Summerlin the following week before fading over the weekend. To add further fuel to the fire, Laird’s biggest career win to date came at the Dick Wilson-designed Bay Hill in the 2011 Arnold Palmer Invitational and he clearly has ample distance off the tee to shine at CCJ. Simply put, Laird is a class act in a relatively weak field this week and his ball-striking has looked very strong so far this season.
As a Las Vegas resident whose maiden title came in Reno, there’s a tendency to think of Scott Piercy as merely a big-hitting west coast specialist. However, there is more to the 35-year-old’s game than immediately meets the eye with his second PGA tour win coming on a shot-maker’s track in Canada (Hamilton G&CC) and top-5 finishes on courses as diverse as Innisbrook, TPC Four Seasons and Oak Hill (incidentally, a Donald Ross design – if that pointer should ring true). Piercy underwent surgery on his right arm back in February and returned to competition at the end of July, but he seems to be back to full fitness with a tie for 7th in his hometown of Vegas followed by a top-20 finish last time out at the McGladrey Classic.
Of the players who are still seeking their maiden PGA tour victories, there are a few factors pointing in the direction of William McGirt this week, whose name seemingly keeps popping up towards the top of leaderboards. McGirt has a previous top-5 in this very event (during its days at Annandale) he has a good record in the Arnold Palmer Invitational (at the Dick Wilson-designed Bay Hill), and one of his best finishes of last season came on the Donald Ross-designed Sedgefield Country Club. Encouragingly, the 35-year-old currently ranks 12th on tour in Par 5 Birdie or Better Leaders, and he has opened his 2014-15 account with a respectable pair of top-35 finishes which he is more than capable of building on this week.
Some players excel in certain parts of the country, which is why the Alabama-educated Jason Bohn gets the nod this week as a ‘deep south’ specialist. Bohn’s last PGA tour win came in Mississippi’s neighbouring state of Louisiana at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans and he has Sanderson Farms tournament form reading 2-9 (over at Annandale). Furthermore, referring again to a possible Sedgefield CC link, Bohn is a previous runner-up at the Donald Ross design and he also ranks very well in Par-5 Birdie or Better Leaders (currently ranking 10th) despite his relative lack of length off the tee.
There are few PGA tour players with links to the state of Mississippi, so local boy Jonathan Randolph should relish being on home turf this week on a course he knows inside out. Aside from playing plenty of rounds here over the years, Randolph also boasts tournament form here having finished runner-up in the 2010 Mississippi State Amateur event. The 26-year-old may not have excelled so far this season, but he did notch a top-30 finish at TPC Summerlin in his penultimate start followed by only missing the McGladrey Classic cut by a single stroke.