1.5pts each-way Matt Wolff @ 40/1
1.5pts each-way Patrick Reed @ 28/1
1pt each-way Abraham Ancer @ 16/1
1pt each-way Carlos Ortiz @ 66/1
0.5pts each-way Tyrrell Hatton @ 28/1
0.5pts each-way Adam Long @ 100/1
We’re paying SEVEN places at the World Wide Technology Championship!
One of the stars of the new generation, Viktor Hovland, won the last Mayakoba Classic in Mexico and I’m hoping another young buck, the exciting Matt Wolff, can do the same on his El Camaleon debut.
The tournament has a new name, the World Wide Tech Championship, new sponsors until 2027 and a winner’s cheque of just under $1.3m, even more than Aussie 50/1 shot Lucas Herbert picked up in windy Bermuda on Sunday. We’re in the wrong game!
But it’s the same shortish 7017-yard par 71 course – a mix of tropical jungle, oceanfront vistas and mangrove shrubs to be navigated in 30C heat and, this time, very little wind.
The field is headed by world No. 7 Justin Thomas, 12th last year but winless since the Players Championship in March, and Norway’s Hovland who made his Ryder Cup debut for Europe when they got blitzed at Whistling Straits in September.
Also on parade: three more members of USA’s victorious squad, Tony Finau, Scottie Scheffler and Brooks Koepka, and five of Hovland’s beaten European colleagues, Sergio Garcia, Tyrrell Hatton, Shane Lowry, Matt Fitzpatrick and Ian Poulter.
I pass them all over in favour of Wolff, the 22-year-old Californian who took two months out for mental health reasons after being DQ’d for signing an incorrect scorecard at the Masters but returned to the form that saw him win on his third pro start in 2019 when a 50/1 runner-up at the Shriners Children’s Open in Las Vegas last time out.
The former Oklahoma State star with the signature wiggle and left-leg kick he picked up from playing baseball is two years younger and less grounded than the two other trumpeted amateurs who turned pro at roughly the same time and have gone on to greater things, three-time winner Hovland and dual Major champion Collin Morikawa.
But he struck even more quickly, beating Morikawa and Bryson DeChambeau in a birdie battle at the 3M tournament in Minnesota. Maybe winning a million bucks at 20 was too much too soon, only a month into his pro career, but from being a smiley kid full of life, he went to the stage of finding getting out of bed a challenge.
Wolff’s fear of screwing up in front of his fans and trying too hard to be perfect affected his game and his love for it. Finding the pressure of trying to live up to his own expectations too intense, he dropped out, not even swinging a club for much of that hiatus, and getting back to his old happy-go-lucky self has been a slow process.
That’s why second place to an exceptional Sungjae Im after looking the winner for much of that Las Vegas tournament last month – his first time in contention since he addressed his personal issues – was such a milestone and why I’ll be backing him until he wins again, including here at 40/1, as I think he might be a bit special.
Although never going to be as consistent as the more orthodox Hovland, he’s lethal with his wedge and flat stick when on song and while this is his first sight of El Camaleon, that’s unlikely to be a problem. He won on his 3M debut and was fourth in his first Major, the 2020 PGA at Harding Park, with only Morikawa, DJ and Casey ahead of him.
Patrick Reed’s Mayakoba bow in 2017 ended after two days but as Hovland missed the cut on his first visit to and won on his second, I’m hoping Reed can do the same.
He almost pulled it off for us in Bermuda where a flying finish took the battling Texan from nowhere to a shot away from a playoff but he will be delighted to get his game back after four miserable months when he contracted bilateral pneumonia, spent six days in hospital in August fighting for breath, lost his Ryder Cup place and, from June onwards, failed to register even a top-ten.
A share of second money after racking up three double bogeys in the first three rounds was a tribute to his fighting heart. A change of driver for the final 36 holes cut out the destructive, penalty-shot-inducing drives and his creativity around the green, so reminiscent of Ballesteros, did the rest.
While all bar Herbert wilted in the wind, Reed’s 65 gave him just the confidence boost he needed and nobody will tee it up with more positivity than this great competitor.
With Abraham Ancer and Carlos Ortiz both winners in the last 15 months, Mexico has never had a better chance of providing a home winner. Ancer was 12th and eighth the last two years, Ortiz, even more convincing with eighth and second. As a WGC winner, Ancer has the stronger credentials but priced accordingly. Both are worth an interest on their consistent course form alone.
Europe is mob-handed in Mexico with Hovland, Hatton and Lowry the pick. Hatton, disappointing for much of the year, looked almost back to his best when runner-up at the Dunhill Links, following that with a top-20 at the CJ Cup in Las Vegas.
He could be a bit of each-way value at 28/1 and if you’re looking for a big outsider who plays above himself at El Camaleon, give Adam Long a go at 100/1.
Third here last year and runner-up in 2019, this 34-year-old journeyman sprang a huge surprise when winning the 2019 Desert Classic. He thrives in low-scoring birdie-fests (20 under has won the past two at El Camaleon) and has posted two fair top-30s since the new season teed off.
Of the Ryder Cup Americans, Koepka is preferred to favourite Thomas at the respective prices as we know just how sensational he can be. He won’t be 28/1 again this season if he wins here.
2pts each-way Min Woo Lee @ 25/1
1pt each-way Robert MacIntyre @ 28/1
1pt each-way Andy Sullivan @ 40/1
1pt each-way Laurie Canter @ 18/1
0.5pts each-way Alvaro Quiros @ 66/1
0.5pt each-way double Min Woo Lee @ 25/1 &
Minjee Lee @ 5/1 (Saudi International)
No European Tour event last week but a European Tour winner – the man from Victoria, Lucas Herbert, who made his PGA Tour breakthrough in the wind-and-rain-lashed Bermuda Championship and probably would not have done so without the experience gained from two victories on the European circuit in Dubai and Ireland.
While his closest rivals, honeymooning rookie Taylor Pendrith and Danny Lee who hadn’t made a cut since June, couldn’t handle the pressure, Herbert clearly revelled in the conditions. He hadn’t done better than 17th in 14 PGA starts but knows how to get the job done on the few times he gets into contention, as he has now proved three times.
Just the sort punters want to have on-side so why he is at a bigger price than the flaky Pendrith in Mexico this week is hard to understand.
Mention of the 25-year-old Australian’s home state leads me nicely into the Portugal Masters, being played at usual on the Victoria course at Vilamoura in the sunny Algarve.
And it’s entirely possible we shall have another Aussie winner in Min Woo Lee, who can go one better than he did at Valderrama last time out when runner-up to Matt Fitzpatrick in the Andalucia Masters.
That was payback from the Sheffield man for Lee beating him and Thomas Detry in the Scottish Open playoff in July, Lee’s second European Tour success and he’s still only 23.
In a none-too-inspiring field headed by Matt Wallace who hasn’t won for three years, young Lee, whose older sister Minjee is 5/1 second favourite for the Saudi International on the European Ladies circuit – also live on Sky Golf – sticks out as one of the few going forward. So why not try the Lee double which at Fitzdares’ prices pays 155/1?
One of the elite who managed to finish under par at demanding Valderrama, Lee will find the Victoria, an inviting 7191-yard par 71, not so taxing. He did make the cut there on his only course experience and, although far from being the most consistent, has come on a bundle since. We know he’s in form, his magical short game will be a huge asset and the 25/1 is a fair price.
Fourth to Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama in Japan last time out and 14th at the Shriners in Las Vegas before that, Wallace has made a fine start to the new PGA Tour season and arrives in Portugal brimming with confidence after his best finish for yonks.
Maybe returning to the Algarve where he posted the first of his four victories in the 2017 Portugal Open at Morgado will inspire this grafter but he has less potential than some.
At the prices I am more drawn to Andy Sullivan at 40/1 and forgotten man Alvaro Quiros at 66/1.
Sullivan was 45 under par for eight fairytale rounds at flattering Victoria. when winning by nine in 2015 and just failing to follow up the following year when pipped by canny Padraig Harrington who is in this week’s field and not without a squeak.
Sunny Sully missed the last two Masters but played nicely enough in 2018 (20th) and 2019 (8th) and would have been almost favourite if only he had shown a bit more this summer. But never discount a golfer’s positive mental association with a course.
Quiros is also a course winner and you have to delve even further back to find his name on the honours board, to 2008.
The longest hitter in Europe in those days and a seven-time winner, the amiable giant has suffered with hand and nerve problems for much of the intervening period but seems fit again now and was in the mix for three days in Majorca last time out.
He fell away to 11th but the Spaniard knows the course like the back of his hand – he represented Victoria on the tour for a number of years – and it’s worth chancing a small bet.
More obvious claims are held by Laurie Canter who was runner-up to George Coetzee last year and is going great guns. The man from Bath followed a share of second place behind Billy Horschel at Wentworth with fourth at Valderrama and fifth in Majorca.
The snag with Canter is that he remains winless and is not the best at handling pressure. One day he’ll break through but he turns 32 this week and we’re still waiting. Again, course form underscores his prospects of getting it done this weekend.
Young Scot Robert MacIntyre has more time on his side and is itching to put a 2021 ‘W’ on his CV. He’s been mixing with the best in the States and performing consistently (nine cuts made out of 11) if not spectacularly.
Yet his eighth in the Open, 12th at the Masters and 15th at St Jude read well in this week’s lesser company. Less persuasive are missed cuts at Wentworth and at the Dunhill Links and a modest effort last time out at Valderrama. but he has the game for this week’s task on what surprisingly is his Victoria debut.
The 20-year-old Hojgaard twins, Rasmus and Nicolai, both winners this year, are more attractive betting propositions than perennial losers Thomas Pieters, Sebastian Soderberg and Adri Arnaus, while at bigger odds Harrington and Sebastian Garcia Rodriguez make some appeal.