Don’t read into the fact that the PGA TOUR leaves the country during the week of the presidential election. The OHL Classic at Mayakoba has not deviated from its slot in the second full week of November since it shifted to a stand-alone date in the fall of 2013, but even then, there’s arguably nowhere else the field of 132 would rather be this week.
Among the full-season stable of dynamite host sites and regions, it’s tough to top the Riviera Maya. Support for the tournament has been so strong that the purse has been increased to $7,000,010. That’s $10 more than double its distribution of its inaugural edition in 2007. The uncommon surplus of $10 on top of the significant rise from $6.2 million last year correlates to the celebration of the event’s 10th anniversary as a PGA TOUR stop. But it’s really more of a destination, and it’s everything golfers who have, um worked here before expect to find.
El Camaleón Golf Club in Playa del Carmen, México, was the second-easiest par 71 last season, just a click lower than last week’s host, TPC Summerlin. After posting 18-under 266, Graeme McDowell emerged from a three-way playoff. As profiles go, he’s in the sweet spot among veteran ball-strikers who have enjoyed success on this track defended by offshore winds and undulating putting surfaces, but the statistics don’t glaringly support it.
G-Mac ranked just T16 in fairways hit and T30 in greens in regulation en route to victory. ShotLink isn’t employed in the tournament, but it stands to reason that distance control on approach is imperative when taking aim at the 7,000-square foot targets. He went 26-for-51 on scoring opportunities and total 27 birdies in regulation, leading the field in both percentage and aggregate. McDowell checked up at fourth in putts per GIR and T3 in one-putt percentage.
The defending champion’s success on the greens is impressive in its own right, but even more so given the nuance of the greens. The Greg Norman design consists of paspalum grass throughout, so the greens are as consistent as you’ll find, but they’re prepped to run no faster than 11 feet on the Stimpmeter because of the slopes and canters.
This year’s primary change involves the rough. Allowed an additional half-inch to grow two inches, it’s prompted the introduction of an intermediate cut at one inch flanking fairways and around the perimeters of greens. It’s unlikely to influence scoring overall, but new looks off the tee might persuade long hitters to wield driver once or twice more during a round. At just 6,987 yards, El Camaleón doesn’t cater to that strategy, though. Its measured driving distance landed at just 277.4 yards last season, second-shortest among all courses, but don’t be surprised if this is the year a new team of horses is corralled.
Despite its beauty and splendor, these are tropical climes, so rain is almost always a threat. Last year’s edition required a Monday finish as a result. There’s a reasonable chance for precipitation before the 36-hole cut this week, but the weekend forecast is favorable. Seasonably high temperatures in the low to mid-80s are expected. Wind shouldn’t be too much of a factor except for the couple of holes (Nos. 4 and 15) hard on the shore.