There’s a bumper bundle of TV golf this week with no fewer than four tournaments live on Sky, the Golf in Dubai Championship with its Wednesday start, the South African Open, the Mayakoba Classic from Mexico and the Texas Classic on the LPGA circuit.
The Mayakoba is the final 72-hole event on the PGA Tour with powerhouses Justin Thomas and Brooks Koepka the star attractions but the El Camaleon course at Playa del Carmen, a par 71 and under 7000 yards, has a history of short-hitting winners.
The first, Fred Funk in 2007, was the shortest and, at almost 51, the oldest and the next champion, hot putter Brian Gay, would be selling hot dogs outside the course if power was the only ingredient of the game.
Further evidence came in 2015 when Graeme McDowell pipped Russell Knox and Jason Bohn in a shorties play-off. The two latest winners, Matt Kuchar and Brendon Todd, 258th and 282nd on the long-driving table, fall into the same category, only more so.
So while Thomas and Koepka look a class superior and may well make hay on a track where the two most recent winners required 22 and 20 under to get the job done, there could be better value elsewhere, most notably with the Mexicans on home ground.
Out of the blue, Carlos Ortiz defeated none other than world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his breakthrough at the Houston Open on his most recent outing and with his tour card secured for 2021 should be bouncing with confidence this week.
The previous time the 29-year-old Mexican challenged was in the 2019 Mayakoba when edged out by a shot by Todd who was on a huge birdie streak, having won by four in Bermuda on his previous outing. Todd isn’t in the same form now but is still feared.
The other Mexican to back is the 2017 Australian Open champion Abraham Ancer who keeps knocking on the door in stronger fields but has yet to win in the States. He was 12th on his last home visit for the WGC Mexico Championship in February.
Down in 171st place for driving, he has to do it the hard way but was an impressive 13th in the Masters following a fourth in Las Vegas.
Twice a runner-up, at Heritage and the AmEx, Ancer was a revelation on his Presidents Cup bow In Melbourne last year, winning three matches. The clincher is his solid course form, eighth last year and ninth in 2017.
It’s almost a home game for Colombian Sebastian Munoz as Spanish is the common language. He beat Sungjae Im in a Sanderson Farms play-off and had a nice run with a 9-14-19 flourish at the CJ Cup, ZOZO and Masters.
The good course and current form of Harris English and Gay suggests they will play a part, 2013 winner English following fourth at the US Open with tenth in the CJ Cup and sixth when last seen at Sea Island.
It’s ridiculous he hasn’t won for seven years but his poor win record makes the 14-1 offer easy enough to resist.
First up this week is the new Dubai tournament which runs Wednesday to Saturday on the Fire course at Jumeirah Estates. It sets up next week’s big Race To Dubai finale at the better-known Earth course on the same Jumeirah complex.
Both tracks are the work of Greg Norman, the 7480-yard Fire the shorter but still quite a handful with two holes over 620 yards and two 250-yard par threes.
With no course history to guide us, the current form of Robert MacIntyre – first and third in Cyprus followed by a fast-finishing sixth at Leopard Creek on Sunday – is persuasive.
The Scot, last year’s Rookie of the Year, is plenty long enough and has a putting stroke that’s close to perfect.
The expressive Frenchman Alexander Levy has had little to smile about the past two years but he has battled his way out of the slump with sixth place at Leopard Creek following a similar finish in the Cyprus Showdown. Expect another decent show.
Belgian bomber Thomas Pieters has all the talent in the world but is his own worst enemy. If he can keep the toys in the pram, he could bag the first victory of a frustrating year. He went close at the Celtic Classic and his 23rd at the US Open was more than respectable.
Spaniard Adri Arnaus has yet to win but his tee-to-green game in South Africa last week was sharp and a better putting display could see him improve on his sixth-place finish there.
Bernd Wiesberger, a triple winner last year, shares favouritism with MacIntyre but has underperformed this campaign and the 12-1 looks a bit skinny. Dual Major champion Martin Kaymer, third in the betting, swings it beautifully but is a serial loser these days.
The South African Open takes over from the Nedbank Challenge in Africa’s gambling capital Sun City with last week’s four-shot winner Christiaan Bezuidenhout, a 16-1 pick in this column, and Dylan Frittelli heading the market at single-figure odds.
Both played in the Masters with Frittelli surpassing all expectations in finishing fifth. He has played in the States for much of the year, his 11th at the ZOZO also catching the eye. Given Bezuidenhout’s hard week at Leopard Creek, Frittelli could come out on top again.
Scott Jamieson, sixth at Leopard Creek, has one outstanding piece of form at the Gary Player Country Club, his close second to Branden Grace in the 2017 Nedbank. The Scot is a better golfer in South Africa than anywhere else and could go close.
Veteran Darren Fichardt has some strong form on this 7,827-yard monster which doesn’t play anything like its length in the rarefied air and average hitters often win there.
A course winner in the 2004 Dimension Data Pro-Am and with top-ten Nedbank efforts there in 2017-18, Fichardt, 45, still plays well enough to have won twice on this year’s Sunshine Tour, bringing his home circuit total to 18. He is a firm each-way fancy.
At the other end of the age spectrum, 20-year-old Jayden Schaper looked a rare talent when sharing second spot behind Bezuidenhout on Sunday.
He finished top ten as an amateur in the last South African Open at Randpark in January and joins the more powerful Wilco Nienaber (12th at Leopard Creek after his second in Joburg) as guaranteed SA stars of the future.
Nienaber hits it almost as far as Bryson DeChambeau without any of the huffing and puffing that the bulked-up American puts into it. He needs to cut out the bogeys – there were six on Sunday – but the swing is poetry in motion.
1pt each-way Stephanie Meadow at 66-1
1pt each-way Jin Young Ko at 12-1
0.5pt each-way Bianca Pagdanganan at 50-1
The Volunteers of America Texas Classic is the final warm-up for next week’s US Women’s Open, which is also in the Lone Star State, surely the first time a Major has ever been played in December.
The Old American club hosts the event for the third year, the two previous runnings going to Sung Hyun Park and outsider Cheyenne Knight.
The Brits are on a roll on the LPGA Tour with Georgia Hall and Mel Reid first-time winners over there. Now it could be Northern Ireland’s Stephanie Meadow’s turn to break through.
She posted her best 2020 finish when third in last week’s Pelican Championship and has course form, sixth last year. The 66-1 is fair enough although world No.1 Jin Young Ko and the evergreen Inbee Park will be tough to beat.
The raw talent of Filipina starlet Bianca Pagdanganan is awesome. The longest hitter in the women’s game effortlessly knocks it 280 yards and when at home does her practising at the appropriately-named Wack Wack club in Manila. Watch this space!