Graeme McDowell picked up his second PGA Tour win at last year’s OHL Classic at Mayakoba. Who will add their name to the champions list this week?
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Mandatory Credit: Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports
Last week’s Shriners Hospitals for Children Open was the PGA Tour’s first event on U.S. soil since the end of the brief Asian swing, but we’re already crossing another international border this week.
The OHL Classic at Mayakoba, the first of two Mexican events on the schedule for 2016-17, is set to get underway on Thursday.
While Mayakoba is a quality venue, it’s always struggled to attract big names — prior to 2013, it was staged opposite the WGC-Match Play, and its spot on the schedule has kept it less than lucrative since rising to regular status.
However, last week’s Shriners Hospitals for Children Open featured some compelling action in spite of the weak field. With any luck, it’ll be the same story this week.
Without further ado, let’s get to it. Here are the ten best bets for success at the OHL Classic at Mayakoba.
Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports
After coming up just short a year ago, Russell Knox has a great chance to find the winner’s circle at Mayakoba.
No. 19, Lost playoff at last year's OHL Classic
After coming within a whisker of the title at last year’s OHL Classic, Knox will look to take that next step this week. The Scot has opened the 2016-17 season with back-to-back top 10s, and given his season-long consistency (17 top 30s in 26 starts this year), he appears to be a great bet to keep it going. None of his previous results at Mayakoba can hold a candle to his playoff loss last year, but at least he’s never missed a cut at the track. To top it off, his confidence has to be higher than it was 12 months ago.
It’d be a stretch to say his putting deserves the benefit of the doubt, but Keegan Bradley has been much improved over the last few weeks.
No. 97, Five top 25s in last seven starts
This New Englander fulfilled his projection at last week’s Shriners Hospitals for Children Open, reeling off a tie for seventh place for his third consecutive top 25 finish. Armed with his best form in months, Bradley will roll into this week as one of the frontrunners. His track record at Mayakoba may not be extensive, but he made the most of his lone prior appearance, tying for eighth at last year’s event. As long as he continues to keep his head above water with the putter, he’ll remain on the shortlist of contenders.
Emiliano Grillo will be making his OHL Classic debut this week, but he has the game to thrive on unfamiliar courses.
No. 26, Three top 20s in last four starts
With three consecutive top 30 finishes, including a solo 11th at the WGC-HSBC Champions, this ultra-consistent Argentinian has his 2016-17 season off to a solid start. Even more important to his long term success is his continued statistical strength; for the new season, Grillo ranks 28th in strokes gained: tee-to-green, as well as 40th in greens in regulation and 45th in driving accuracy. This week will mark his first look at Mayakoba, but he’s not the type to struggle with picking up new courses — his Rookie of the Year-winning 2015-16 campaign serves as evidence of that.
Harris English hasn’t done much at Mayakoba since his win in 2013, but he still ranks among the frontrunners this week.
No. 70, OHL Classic winner in 2013
After a long stretch of steady yet uninspiring results, English finally got the spark he needed last week at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open, winding up in a tie for fourth. He’ll carry that momentum with him as he heads to Mayakoba, the site of his second career PGA Tour victory back in 2013. While he hasn’t come close to matching that result, his overall record at the course — two-for-three with a victory — is worthy of our attention. He hasn’t missed a cut since May, so he should have four full rounds to advance up the leaderboard.
Still making his first go-round as a PGA Tour member, Jon Rahm has proven that he can run with the big dogs.
No. 120, Five top 25s in last six starts
This young Spaniard is a threat to contend at every tournament he enters. Despite turning pro just a few months ago, Rahm has wasted no time getting used to the PGA Tour — he’s found the top 25 in five of his last six starts, most of them coming on unfamiliar courses. What’s more, the 21-year-old actually has some experience at Mayakoba, tying for 10th while playing as an amateur at last year’s OHL Classic. Given his pedigree, it won’t be long before we see Rahm contend for another title. Why not this one?
Derek Fathauer’s form has taken a recent turn for the better, making him a solid bet to contend this week.
No. 171, Two top 15s in last three starts
With Fathauer, we’ve got a case of converging trends on our hands. The Louisville product has been strong to start the new season, evidenced by his tie for 15th at the Safeway Open and tie for third at the CIMB Classic. This week, he’ll be buoyed by good memories from last year’s OHL Classic — he opened with three rounds in the mid-60s before fading to a 71 on Sunday. He currently ranks inside the top 20 on the PGA Tour in both strokes gained: putting and scoring average, so expect only good things.
Charles Howell III isn’t in the best form, but his track record at Mayakoba speaks for itself.
Charles Howell III
No. 101, Five career top 20s at Mayakoba
This veteran isn’t playing spectacularly at the moment, but his game always resurfaces at Mayakoba. In seven career starts at the OHL Classic, Howell has made six cuts and found the top 20 on five occasions, making him one of the PGA Tour’s most reliable competitors south of the border. While he’s not on one of his patented early-season hot streaks, a tie for 15th in Vegas last week should give him a small morsel of momentum. Somewhat surprisingly, he led the field in driving distance on his last trip to Mayakoba.
With a ton of length off the tee and some nice history at Mayakoba, Tony Finau looks pretty good heading into this week.
No. 82, T7 in last start at Mayakoba
This Utahan has been playing well enough to start the new season, but he keeps getting tripped up by mediocre scores, failing to break 70 in the final round of either of his last two events. Still, that trend is bound to reverse course sooner or later, and Mayakoba looks like the perfect place for it to happen — in his lone prior start in Mexico, Finau tied for seventh thanks to bookend 65s. This hasn’t been his strongest stretch, but with his length, he’s always dangerous.
A former winner at Mayakoba, John Huh will look to pick up his first PGA Tour victory in nearly five years this week.
No. 222, OHL Classic winner in 2012
Victory at Mayakoba was the highlight of his Rookie of the Year campaign back in 2012, but Huh has failed to progress from there, going winless over the past few years. Still, he’s got his new campaign off to a solid start, surviving his first two cuts and tying for 10th at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open last week. He’ll still fly under the radar heading into this week, but at least he’s posted a pair of top 30s at the OHL since his win. After the first five events of the new season, he ranks 29th in strokes gained: tee-to-green.
Billy Horschel hasn’t played the OHL Classic in a few years, but that’s no reason to doubt the veteran.
No. 73, Three top 15s in last five starts
He managed only a tie for 41st in his 2016-17 debut last week, but that doesn’t erase Horschel’s strong run through the end of last season. The Florida product closed with three top 15s in four events, including a tie for fifth at the Wyndham Championship and a tie for 10th at the BMW Championship. He hasn’t played Mayakoba since his star turn back in 2013, but he registered a couple of solid results prior to that: a tie for 30th in 2012 and a tie for 13th the year before. Don’t sleep on this three-time PGA Tour winner — he’s remained quiet for far too long.