Mayakoba Golf Classic: Fantasy picks, power rankings and analysis

Brooks Koepka, with caddie Ricky Elliott, is looking for his first PGA Tour win this week since July 2019. Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

After a season long and strange, interrupted by COVID-19 for three months in the spring and early summer, the PGA Tour has finally reached the end of its 2020 schedule.

The Tour heads down to Mexico to El Camaleon, a par 71, 7,017-yard layout, for the Mayakoba Classic. The purse is $7.2 million with $1.296 awarded to the champion. That will make for a nice, brief holiday for one golfer and his caddie.

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ShotLink data isn’t available for this tournament, however, recent winners Brendon Todd and Matt Kuchar found some of the most difficult fairways to hit on the PGA Tour (56 percent) and putted well, like most winners do. Chipping, pitching and bunker play aren’t particularly easy around this course, so a sharp short game will serve a man well. The par 3s are ripe with birdie opportunities.

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The winner should be good for the most part, what a person should expect when visiting a resort in December – temperatures in the low 80s with light winds and the everpresent chance of thunderstorms. A quite good chance (60 percent) during the first three tournament rounds.

The green surfaces are rare for PGA Tour golf – paspalum, a saltwater tolerant grass found in seaside or coastal courses such as the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island. It’s a coarse blade that can be tricky to read and rewards firm putts.

As always, good luck.

Golfer power rankings

25. Brian Stuard – Hard to have tremendous faith in Stuard anytime. His results are erratic. But his iron game has been strong of late (20th in field in SG: Approach over last 20 rounds) and throughout his career has proven he can play well at any moment on certain courses. Mayakoba has treated him fine in the past – three top 10s in seven starts. If you have the nerve to gamble on his putter, he’s a potential good value.

24. Brice Garnett – Finished 11th and fifth at the Mayakoba the last two years and his other most recent top 10 came at the Wyndham. Recent results aren’t great – made five of the last seven cuts with only one finish inside the top 50. Still, he’s hungry to rack up FedEx points before the Tour takes a month hiatus.

23. Chris Kirk – He’s made the cut in 7 of the last 9 starts. It’s easy to forget how good Kirk was before he took a leave of absence from the PGA Tour – four victories, $17.4 million in earnings, top 10s in more than 10 percent of career events. His tie for 18th on the home turf at Sea Island was his best PGA Tour finish in 18 months. Stock is rising.

22. Doug Ghim – Has five top 25s in his last seven starts and succeeded on similar courses like Bermuda and Sea Island. It’s reasonable to assume this former Texas star, who made the cut in the Masters as an amateur, is starting to feel comfortable on the PGA Tour. He’s performed at this level despite an uncooperative putter, losing 0.1 strokes on the greens over the last five tournaments.

21. Camilo Villegas – Playing on a major medical extension and took advantage at Sea Island, finishing tied for sixth. Has made the cut in four of five previous Mayakoba appearances. Ballstriking and short game has been solid for his last five starts and found the touch on the greens at RSM, gaining 3.5 strokes.

20. Rory Sabbatini – In short the 44-year-old Slovenian by way of South Africa is a check-cashing machine. Timeless, really. In his last two starts (RSM, Bermuda) he finished T-12. He’s consistently made the cut at Mayakoba and finished in the top five in 2011 and 2014.

19. Peter Malnati – Recent trips to Mayakoba haven’t been pleasing but does have a 10th and T-15 to his credit in 2014 and 2016. After entering the season with conditional status and earning enough points to secure privileges for 2021-22, he’s playing with house money, essentially and Mayakoba should suit his eye. Not many roll it better – he’s top five in SG: Putting and SG: Short Game over the last 24 rounds.

18. Patton Kizzire – For the better part of two years the two-time Tour winner has been lost in the wilderness. Folks have reported seeing photos of his game posted on the side of milk cartons and tacked to light poles and bulletin boards across the South. But it looks like he’s on the rebound. He’s 55th in the FedEx Cup standings thanks to three consecutive top 25s and a 10th at the RSM. Dude can roll his rock.

17. Brian Gay – Won here in 2008 and has made the cut in all 10 Mayakoba starts. His scoring average is 68.83 in the tournament and he’s fired in the 60s in six of his last eight rounds. Won in Bermuda at the beginning of the month of course and has worked hard in recent years to add distance to his drives. Always a solid selection south of the border.

16. Carlos Ortiz – Making his first start since he won for the first time on Tour at Houston. Would love to back up that effort with a strong performance back home in Mexico. Tied for second here last year and has one other top 10 on his resume. Thrives in favorable scoring conditions and went lights out on the greens in Houston (6.1 strokes gained).

15. Joaquin Niemann – Missed the Masters due to COVID-19 and finished T-44 at Sea Island but beforehand was on a nice roll. Nothing special in two tries in Mayakoba (T-60 and MC). Still, he leads the field in SG: Off-the-Tee over the last 24 rounds and is 20th in SG: Putting, which is promising for this week and his bright future.

14. Russell Henley – The best iron player on Tour over the last three months is also top 10 on Tour in fairways hit (73 percent), which is how he’s made nine consecutive cuts, landing in the top 25 on six occasions. Traveled to Mayakoba twice, missing the cut last year when he was struggling and finishing T-29 the year before.

13. Harold Varner III – Pair of top 15s and a pair of missed cuts in his last four starts. Developing into one of the more consistent ballstrikers on Tour and has been solid through the bag of late, gaining a shot on the greens at Sea Island. Also has a strong track record at Mayakoba with top-6 finishes in 2016 and 2019.

12. Scott Piercy – Ideal junction of a hot golfer and a course he enjoys. Hasn’t finished outside the top 26 in his last four Mayakoba appearances, with a pair of top-6 results included. And his game has been trending upward with top 20s in three of his last four starts (RSM, Bermuda, Shriners).

11. Billy Horschel – He’s a streaky ballstriker but has been on form often in visits to Mayakoba, landing in the top 25 in three of five starts, including a T-8 last year. First start since the Masters (T-38) and trying to end the year on a high note. Has been making cuts but has only one top 10 in the last 11 tournaments, a T-2 at the Wyndham.

10. Emiliano Grillo – Enamored with his ballstriking but the short game and putting are holding him back from finishing higher (90th or worse in field in both areas). Still, steadily a moneymaker, having missed only one cut in the last 10 tournaments. Has a pair of top 10s and a 15th in four Mayakoba starts.

9. Tony Finau – Has made 11 of the last 12 cuts, gaining 2.6 strokes on approach and 1.2 on the greens in his last five tournaments. Game is so well-rounded he can still find a way to make the cut on an off week and finish in the middle-of-the-pack. He’s eighth in the field in SG: Approach and 28th in SG: Putting in his last 24 rounds.

8. Will Zalatoris – With PGA Tour conditional status secured, now the phenom from Wake Forest can set his focus on full membership via a victory. In spite of losing 2.1 strokes on the greens on average in the last 10 tournaments, he’s racked up top 10s at a rapid rate. Incredible talent who will likely spend the brief offseason in a putting lab.

7. Adam Long – Quietly developing into one of the Tour’s more consistent golfers despite being prone to poor putting weeks on occasion. The runner-up in Mayakoba last year and also at the 3M Open in July. He finished 11th in Houston and 30th at the RSM in his last two starts.

6. Corey Conners – A trio of top 10s and a top 25 in his last four starts. Switched to cross-handed putting earlier this season and has improved rapidly (50th in field in SG over last 24 rounds) to complement exquisite ballstriking. He’s a blossoming star.

5. Harris English – Torched the Sea Island Seaside course in the final round, continuing one of the more impressive years on the PGA Tour. Won here in 2014 and finished fifth last year. In this field over the last 24 rounds he’s third in SG: Short Game and 21st in SG: Putting. Plenty to like for the Georgia Bulldog.

4. Daniel Berger – The Florida native will have to wait until the spring to return to the Masters but wherever he’s traveled in the last year, his game has followed. Has played the weekend in 21 of the last 23 starts with 15 top 25s and a win during the stretch. Finished T-51 in only Mayakoba start in 2015.

3. Abraham Ancer – He’d love to claim his first PGA Tour victory anywhere but doing so in his home country would be even sweeter. Certainly likes the course, firing 38 under the last three years and recording a pair of top 10s. Played great at the Masters until Sunday.

2. Brooks Koepka – Missed the cut in lone Mayakoba appearance, way back in 2014. Game is returning to form, however, with a T-5 at Houston and T-7 at the Masters in his last two tournaments. Putter and short game are trending upward, which is to be expected now that he’s healthy and playing a typical schedule.

1. Justin Thomas – He’s owned the fall portion of the Tour schedule since turning pro and has knocked on the door in his two most recent starts, finishing runner-up at the Zozo and T-4 at the Masters. Making his first appearance at Mayakoba and if he can find magic with the putter (55th in field in SG over last 24 rounds), a victory will make the holidays even sweeter.

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