View from the edge of OB at No.10
The PGA Tour migrates south of the border this week for the OHL Classic at Mayakoba, where a field of 132 players will compete on one of the most unique layouts in the world. El Camaleon Golf Club, a 6,987-yard par-71 masterpiece designed by Greg Norman, winds its way through three distinct landscapes: tropical jungles, dense mangroves, and stunning oceanfront stretches of sand, with most holes bisected by massive limestone canals. World No. 7 Rickie Fowler makes his first start of the new season, and is joined by Presidents Cup teammates Charley Hoffman, Patrick Reed, Kevin Chappell, and defending champion Pat Perez as headliners south of the border.
El Camaleon is a short hitter’s paradise with wide fairways and rough that’s only a few inches thick, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s easy. Manmade lagoons and canals come into play on all but three holes. Thirty-six bunkers are strategically scattered throughout the course, including subterranean cave bunkers (one is named the Devil’s Mouth), that will create quite a few “what the hell” reactions from players who see them for the first time. And the ever-present Caribbean Sea winds will flap collars, ripple shirt sleeves and pant legs, making imagination and feel just as important as accurate yardages.
Driving Accuracy and Greens in Regulation are key metrics at El Camaleon. Six of the previous 10 winners ranked inside the top-30 keeping it in play off the tee, while another six winners ranked inside the top-15 in greens hit for the week. Greens are generously sized, so keep an eye on Proximity to Hole. Big hitters have virtually no advantage at El Camaleon with Charley Hoffman being the only champion who ranked inside the top-100 in driving distance. Recent history has produced veteran winners at an average age of 38-years old, who also excelled in ball striking.
Big Bunker view from No.2 at El Camaleon
The 428-yard, par-4, 2nd hole is the first of El Camaleon’s mangrove holes and plays into prevailing winds. The closer players flirt with danger on the right side off the tee, the better angles they’ll have on approach. However missing too far right most likely means drives will be lost in the dense mangroves. Approach shots are best played high and soft into a putting surface that slopes right to left and is protected by a large bunker and water on the left.
18Birdies Caddy+ View of No. 10 at El Camaleon
Playing downhill and into a green perched alongside a breathtaking quarry of crystal-clear water, the 200-yard, par-3, 10th hole is an adrenaline-fueled thrill ride that will assault, delight, and overwhelm the senses. Safe shots that target the middle of the green run the risk of feeding off the putting surface to the back, while shots missing left will be gobbled up by two problematic bunkers. The toughest pins will be tucked on the right near limestone cliffs and will test any player’s’ mettle.
At only 532 yards long, the medium-length par-5, 13th is the only hole at El Camaleon to begin in the forest and end in the mangroves, and is extremely cunning from tee to green. It’s easy to give away a few strokes here if not played properly. The landing area off the tee grows continuously narrow towards the green, making for a very delicate tee shot that will punish wayward shots. On approach, a false front bunker makes club selection very important. The green is medium-sized and without much undulation will catch good shots like a catcher’s mitt.
No. 17 is a short, 386-yard, par-4 that plays directly between a limestone canal and the Fairmont Mayakoba. The green sits only two yards from the canal so anything even remotely left will be disastrous. Good drives will leave just a short iron or wedge into a deep but narrow green, however, the prudent play might be to leave driver in the bag to make sure the ball stays in play.
Players to Watch
Rickie Fowler comes in as the highest-ranked player in the field and is getting his first look at El Camaleon this week. For what it’s worth, four of the last six winners have never played here before. Fowler’s never been known as an accurate driver, but as long as he’s not completely off the planet, El Camaleon won’t penalize him with relatively painless rough. Rickie was a surgeon with the putter last season, particularly towards the end of the year, suggesting he’ could score early and often if doesn’t suffer from wobbly play on approach. Fowler ranked 38th last season in Strokes Gained: Approach the Green, and that’s good for the highest ranking in that category of anyone in the field. However from 125 to 150 yards out, Rickie struggled to put it close to the pin, and with 11 par-4s on the course that’s the range he’s going to be hitting from into most of the greens. Expecting Fowler to be sharp from this range after a layoff of more than six weeks might be too much to ask. Fowler to finish outside the top-20.
Kevin Streelman seems to fit the mold perfectly for success at El Camaleon. Streelman lays it in the fairway as well as anyone, and he’s eclipsed 75-percent of greens hit already this season. Kevin’s a savvy veteran known for his solid ball-striking, and played very well here last year with three rounds of 65 or lower en-route to finishing T-4. The bugaboo for Streelman this year, however, has been his putter, and there have been lots of lowlights with the flat-stick. Streelman’s ranked towards the bottom in just about every significant putting category this season. So why am I picking Streelman for a top-10 finish? Because Streelman’s a streaky putter, and I have a hunch this is just one of those weeks he surprises on the greens.
Bryson DeChambeau finished better than only four players at the OHL Classic last year, and that could scare some people off this week. However, DeChambeau’s clearly not the same player today that he was this time last year. Bryson played like a man possessed with two 67s over the weekend in Vegas where he finished T-7 at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open, and this season he’s ranked 12th on Tour in Strokes Gained: Off the Tee and Strokes Gained: Approach the Green. DeChambeau also finally started making some putts last week, suggesting he’s not too far from being completely dialed in on the greens as well. Bryson checks all the boxes, is trending in the right direction, and seems primed to blow hot this week for career victory number two.