The PGA Tour is back in action following a one-week break, as we head to Mexico for the World Wide Technology Championship (WWTC). Which takes place at its new home of the Tiger Woods-designed El Cardonal course at the Diamante Resort.
This event kicks off an important three-week stretch on the PGA Tour as they reach the climax of the FedExCup Fall, and learn what 2024 will hold for those who are still fighting to secure their playing rights for next season.
The WWTC debuted in 2007 as the Mayakoba Classic and was originally an alternate-event played much earlier in the year, opposite the WGC – Match Play in February/March. It switched to this later slot in the year in 2013, where it has remained ever since.
Every previous renewal took place at the El Camaleon course at Mayakoba, though due to that Greg Norman design now being part of the LIV schedule, the tournament needed a new home and will for the first time see a Tiger Woods design on the PGA Tour schedule.
Fred Funk won the inaugural edition of the WWTC in 2007 and the event has also seen wins for 2010 US Open winner Graeme McDowell (2015) and nine-time PGA Tour winner, Matt Kuchar (2018).
Viktor Hovland became the first person to win multiple WWTC titles, claiming back-to-back victories in 2020 and 2021; whilst last year saw Russell Henley win on the PGA Tour for the first time in five years. Unfortunately, he doesn’t return to defend this year.
The switch in courses takes us from Riviera Maya in the south-east of the country, to Baja California Sur in the north-west, swapping the Caribbean Sea for the Pacific Ocean. It is here where Tiger Woods’ very first completed design project opened in 2014, with the El Cardonal course at Diamante.
The course – which is designed with a nod to the type of course Tiger grew up playing, just north of the border in Southern California – is a par 72 and measures 7452 yards. It consist of ten par 4s (344-489 yards), four par 5s (554-601 yards) and four par 3s (154-208 yards).
Dunes and arroyos (a steep-sided gully formed by flowing water) frame all holes at the course and with much native flora situated within, you could end up in some seriously difficult positions if straying from the short grass here.
The terrain is relatively hilly and exposed, with undulating fairways and subtle elevation changes. Said fairways are enormously wide and with no rough, most of the protection is provided by the strong strategic bunkering, many of which are punishingly deep and situated in the fairways themselves.
Paspalum grass covers the course, including on the also very large, contoured greens, which will play at 11-12 on the stimp this week. They are quite distinctive and vary greatly in size and shape, with a multitude of pin positions possible. Despite the overall size of them, there are many which are extremely long and narrow which will prove tough to hit, especially with the countless run-offs that lead into tricky surrounds around the greens; difficult chips from tight lies will be commonplace if inaccurate with your approaches.
It's always tough going to a brand new course but Tiger wanted a course that was packed full of options and required strategy, with finding the correct portions of these fairways key in being able to attack the greens. Having said that, with several short, potentially drivable par 4s, along with par 5s that should be reachable for all and par 3s that don’t look overly intimidating, I expect the pros to score well this week.
- § SG: Off-the-Tee
- § Driving Distance
- § SG: Approach
- § SG: Putting (Paspalum)
- § Par 5 Scoring
I’m going to favour the strongest (and longest) ball-strikers this week. The driver looks especially important, with every par 4 and par 5 tempting you into taking the big stick out of the bag. Due to the generous nature of the fairways, the bombers should love what they find at El Cardonal.
Those bombers able to match their strength off-the-tee with quality approach play and/or a proven ability on paspalum putting surfaces should have even more of an advantage. Whilst making the most of the scoring opportunities on the par 5s looks another essential factor.
Though we have no correlating form to go off, there are routes into this week’s event for me. I’m mainly looking at other courses where paspalum is the primary grass of choice and there are four such events/courses that stand out.
My two favourites are Vidanta Vallarta, which hosts the Mexico Open and the host of the Corales Puntacana Championship, Corales Golf Club. Both courses use paspalum grass and are very generous off the tee with large putting surfaces.
The other two courses to consider are El Camaleon, which hosted those previous editions of this event and Grand Reserve Country Club, home of the Puerto Rico Open. Though fairways are much narrower at both of these courses, they both feature that same grass as this week.
Away from the paspalum courses and it’s the wide fairways of Congaree Golf Club, which hosted the 2021 Palmetto Championship and 2022 CJ Cup, that appeals. The course features some of the widest and easiest-to-hit fairways on tour, with no rough and large greens. In addition, the sandy waste areas ensure that if you do miss the generous landing areas, you are sure to be penalised.
Conditions are set to be dry and warm in the build up to this week and continuing through the event.
The exposed nature of the course and location on the Pacific Coast would make it susceptible to wind. Whilst it doesn’t yet appear to be blowing too hard this week in the forecasts, gusts are stated to reach as high as 20mph, which will be a challenge to contend with.
World #17, Cameron Young is the highest ranked player in this week’s field and one of five from inside the world’s top 50 in attendance, along with: #29 Sahith Theegala, #32 Lucas Glover, #34 Emiliano Grillo and #47 Chris Kirk.
With Russell Henley absent, we have no defending champion this week and it’s 2018 winner, Matt Kuchar, who is the most recent winner of the event teeing it up. He is one of four former winners, with Patton Kizzire (2017), Charley Hoffman (2014) and Brian Gay (2008) also in the field.
Ludvig Aberg is back in PGA Tour action as he continues to try and break into that FedExCup top 60 and there’s a first start since June for Maverick McNealy, who has been out since sustaining a shoulder injury.
Ludvig Aberg heads the betting at 9/1 and is followed by Cameron Young at 11/1. Each of these monster drivers should go well but it’s the next man in the betting that looks a bit of value of those at the top and goes in as my first selection this week, recent first-time winner, Sahith Theegala.
Sahith Theegala - 14/1 (Win Only)
Theegala had been consistently knocking at the door on the PGA Tour over the last couple of years, with several runner-up finishes amongst other contending performances. He finally made his breakthrough two starts ago at home in California in the Fortinet Championship, joining the lead in round two and occupying that spot at the end of the final two rounds. Eventually running out a two-stroke winner with a score of -21.
He made his return from an over one-month absence two weeks ago in the ZOZO Championship. An opening 67 saw him sat inside the top 10 after round one but he dropped to 19th by the end of the week. However, it was still an encouraging performance as his first start since that meaningful first victory.
Theegala does things his own way and is a player with bags of creativity. He was hitting the ball very well at the start of the year, which saw him to four top 10 finishes over his first ten starts, though some more inconsistent ball-striking, where both his driving and approach play went AWOL, affected his mid-year results.
He found some form with the driver in the Scottish Open seven starts ago and has remained strong with that club since, ranking 23rd in this field over the last twenty rounds played and is 26th in approach over the last fifty rounds. Combined with his short game, which has been on fire all season, all areas of his game appear to be showing quality again and as someone with plenty of power, he looks ideal for this week.
The former star amateur has limited starts in comp events but has shown up well with top 25s in the Mexico Open and in the Corales Puntacana.
Hailing from Southern California, Theegala should feel comfortable in his surrounds this week and I’m taking him to complete a quickfire PGA Tour double in Mexico.
Davis Thompson - 45/1 (1/5 - 6 Places)
Davis Thompson has run into some steady form over recent months and as a strong, long driver, who has started to show improvements with his approach game, I’m taking the once #1 amateur to make his PGA Tour breakthrough this week.
Thompson made a promising start to his rookie season on the tour, recording finishes of 9th in the Fortinet Championship and 12th in the Shriners Open in the wraparound events at the end of last year. He then carried that form over to the start of 2023, running Jon Rahm close in The American Express, finishing 2nd by a shot.
His form suffered following that narrow runner-up finish, as he missed six of his next thirteen cuts and failed to record a single finish inside the top 30, with his approach play looking a particular concern. Though he has arrested that slide over has latest starts.
Thompson has missed just one cut in his last seven events and finished 35th or better in the other six; a 16th-place finish in the Sanderson Farms Championship two starts ago rates as hit best performance in this time.
The driver has continued to fire, an area in which he ranks 22nd on tour this season and as 24th in driving distance, he’s one of the longest. He’s complimenting this with improved approach performances, gaining strokes in five of those seven starts and when adding in the fact he’s the 5th-best par 5 scorer, we have a player who has a compelling statistical case this week.
Cameron Champ - 45/1 (1/5 - 6 Places)
Three-time PGA Tour winner, Cameron Champ has found a little form over his latest starts and should thrive in the wide open expanses of El Cardonal this week.
Barring a top 10 when 8th in the Mexico Open, 2023 has largely been a year to forget for Champ, with far more letters than numbers appearing in his form figures. He has found some consistency in his last six starts, with only two missed cuts and three top 20s, the best of which came when 9th in the Sanderson Farms Championship three starts ago.
Despite the struggling form this year, he has maintained his high-quality driving performances, ranking 16th and is still one of the longest, ranking 3rd in driving distance. Whilst his approach play has been rock-solid, seeing him rank 37th in this field over the last fifty rounds. Indeed in the first round of the Shriners Open two starts ago, he gained three strokes in this area, rating as his second-best single approach round of the last two years.
Champ has had some really strong form here in Mexico, recording top 10 finishes in each of the two stagings of the Mexico Open at Vidanta Vallarta, finishing 6th last year and 8th this. He has gained strokes with the putter on the similar paspalum greens on both of those starts, looking especially good last year when ranking 4th. A 10th at Mayakoba in 2019 serves as another positive for the Californian in Mexico.
Davis Riley - 55/1 (1/5 - 6 Places)
Davis Riley is currently hitting the ball well and has been producing a sneakily consistent run of results. He has looked comfortable on paspalum surfaces before and has a taking profile for this challenge.
Riley made an inauspicious start to the year but looked like potentially turning his form around in Florida, as he finished 8th in the Arnold Palmer Invitational and 19th in the Valspar Championship in March. However, he hasn’t quite kicked on from there.
He did claim a first PGA Tour title of sorts in the Zurich Classic team event when paired with Nick Hardy, though has failed to quite build on it, failing to record another top 25 in his last fourteen starts.
Having said that, he has missed just three cuts in his last ten and is one of the most in-form ball-strikers in this field, ranking 22nd in approach and 29th off-the-tee over the last three months. As a player not lacking in length, he looks a good fit for El Cardonal.
Riley finished just two shots behind winner, Jon Rahm when 5th in the Mexico Open last year. More importantly, he was the strongest putter in the field there on the paspalum greens and has plenty in his favour to produce a best solo finish of the year this week.
Matti Schmid - 100/1 (1/5 - 6 Places)
Despite final round struggles doing for his chances of winning, Matti Schmid was in super buoyant mood after finishing 2nd in the Andalucia Masters two weeks ago. I’m hoping he can carry that positivity back over to the PGA Tour this week at this suitable course.
This is the German’s rookie season on the PGA Tour and though he showed promise earlier in the year when 6th in the AmEx, his form has largely struggled since. He sits 148th in the FedExCup standings and is in need of a strong week to secure his spot on tour for next season.
He had shown positive signs prior to his runner-up finish in Spain, recording three finishes of 26th or better over the course of his five previous PGA Tour starts. The most recent of those was his 26th in the Shriners Open, where he ranked as the 6th-best ball-striker in the field. This is indicative of where the big-hitter’s game has been over the last three months, as he ranks 12th off-the-tee and 26th in approach in that time. A strong, long ball-striking game that should see him take to this setup.
The former #10 amateur was all the rage when turning pro in 2021 after a taking showing at the Open Championship, finishing 59th. The recent success of fellow young Europeans: Ludvig Aberg, Nicolai Hojgaard and Vincent Norrman can act as significant motivation for the talented Schmid to start to make the same strides in his own pro career.
Carl Yuan - 150/1 (1/5 - 6 Places)
After China’s Carl Yuan won once and finished 2nd on three occasions to finish top of the regular season points list on the Korn Ferry Tour in 2022 - earning him and his eccentric swing a first crack at the PGA Tour – big things were expected of him this year.
Things haven’t quite worked out and he sits 133rd on the FedExCup with three events remaining. Though he showed what he was capable of when 6th in the Sanderson Farms Championship two starts ago and as a strong driver who has recently found some form in approach, he can make his way inside that all-important top 125 this week.
Yuan has missed twelve cuts in twenty-two starts on the PGA Tour this year, recording just four top 25s; the best of which came with that 6th at the Country Club of Jackson four weeks ago.
He was excellent there tee-to-green, ranking 3rd; owing to the particular strength of his driver, where he also ranked 3rd. He matched this with a solid approach performance and once again showed this
ball-striking prowess on his latest start, when 52nd in the Shriners Open three weeks ago; gaining strokes in approach in each of his final three rounds.
Yuan has little correlating form though has regularly performed well on paspalum in The Bahamas on the Korn Ferry Tour, finishing 3rd in last year’s Great Exuma Classic. Coupled with his recent upwards trending ball-striking, he should find conditions to suit in Mexico at El Cardonal this week.
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