It'll be tough to get this one wrong.
The Mayakoba Golf Classic isn't the Masters in terms of gamer confidence generated by course history, but it's on the same team and it wasn't picked last by the captain.
Even better, because of its slot on the schedule, investing in a regular at El Camaleón Golf Club who's also long in the tooth is like ordering your favorite meal at a restaurant you patronize often. You rule out the surprise of a new experience, but you've been there enough to know that deviating probably isn't worth the risk.
Gary Woodland, Charles Howell III, Pat Perez, Scott Piercy, Kevin Streelman, Brian Gay and Chez Reavie all present as veterans most likely not to let you down this week. Of them, CH3 angles in the best in terms of a value who packs punch while saving a guy like Woodland for another venue.
Perez has been misfiring, but he won here just two years ago and checks all of the boxes that usually define the champion. All of the others size up as tandems for two-man gamers. Don't hesitate on any. The next time most if not all rise into focus, the lineup of choices ahead of them is likely to be longer.
Only Gay (2008), John Huh (2012) and Patton Kizzire (2017) are first-time winners in the 11-year history of the tournament. Considering that Mayakoba debuted as host of an additional event in 2007 before it transitioned into a stand-alone stop in the fall of 2013, that qualifies as infrequent. However and as always, no matter the tournament and site, there are intriguing pivots if you're keen on going against the grain.
J.J. Spaun is built for El Camaleón. Still a non-winner on the PGA TOUR, his strength is tee-to-green and this is his third appearance, so he knows enough to be dangerous. Last year's T14 was both a bonus and a harbinger. Also comes in having made nine consecutive cuts with top 15s in his last two starts.
If Joaquin Niemann has been burning a hole in your pocket, set him free. While it's easy to attach a level of comfort in Mexico for all for whom Spanish is the first language, his game transcends convenient reasoning. He kept the pedal down at TPC Summerlin (T10) to record already his fifth top 10 in just 15 starts as a professional.
Speaking of comfort, Abraham Ancer may get more love this week than ever before, but he's earned it. Fresh inside the top 100 of the Official World Golf Ranking (at No. 98), he's poised to threaten for his breakthrough title as a focus of converging trends. (For the record, he was born in Texas and raised in Mexico. He possesses dual citizenship.)
If those rising stars come across as a stretch, consider Emiliano Grillo, Si Woo Kim and Aaron Wise, in that order.
Rickie Fowler, Tony Finau, Jordan Spieth, Zach Johnson, Billy Horschel and Ryan Moore will emerge time and again, but approach each as if you're ordering off this week's menu.
One final message: You'll notice that Jonathan Wall has been removed from our little league. Since the conclusion of the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open, he has left PGATOUR.COM in favor for a position at GOLF.com and Golf Magazine. He's already missed in our virtual hallways and we're elated that he was a loyal participant. On his way out the door, I joked with him that no one will ever take away his 2016-17 One & Done title. Hmm… On second thought, given that I assumed the reign with a late-season surge in 2017-18, maybe I'm the reason he took his ball and went home.
RANK PANELIST PICK
Emiliano Grillo As an adjunct to my conservative advice in the column, this edition sets up as transitional between generations. The Argentine has been simmering all year and he's notched top 10s in both appearances at Mayakoba. 166th
On the Mark
Rickie Fowler I may as well fire the first meaningful shot across the bow. Rickie is a great fit for this golf course which demands ball-striking precision. He shook the rust off in Vegas and seems primed to excel. 191st
Charles Howell III
If he's going to force his way back into the winner's circle it wouldn't surprise me if it was on this track. He's cashed in the top seven in three of his last five trips and seven of eight T20 or better lifetime. The veteran will be making his 10th start and is 40-under in his last three trips. 620th
Was the individual champion at the Eisenhower Trophy as an amateur played partly on this course. Parlayed that into a top-15 finish on his PGA TOUR debut here. Will warm up for Australian Open title defense in style. 684th
Length isn’t required at Mayakoba but it never hurts. 807th
Joaquin Niemann Mayakoba favors ball strikers; this Chilean is one of the best, and he’s coming off a top 10 in Vegas.
NOTE: Select golfers committed to the tournament are listed alphabetically. Future tournaments are sorted chronologically and reflect previous success on the courses on which the tournaments will be held in 2018-19. The numerical values in parentheses represent the order of relative confidence of where to use each golfer if multiple sites are listed (e.g. 1 for strongest, 2 for next-strongest and so on). To present weighted confidence in real time, numerical values will not change all season no matter how many tournament remain listed for each golfer. All are pending golfer commitment.
Kevin Chappell … RSM (3); Arnold Palmer (1); Valero (2)
Jason Dufner … CareerBuilder (9); Honda (3); PLAYERS (7); Valspar (4); New Orleans (1); Charles Schwab (6); Memorial (5); U.S. Open (2); Wyndham (8); TOUR Championship (10)
Tony Finau … Farmers (1); Valero (5); Memorial (2)
Rickie Fowler … Mayakoba (7); Sentry (4); Waste Management (1); Honda (3); Arnold Palmer (8); Masters (2); Wells Fargo (6); PGA Championship (9); Memorial (5); U.S. Open (10)
Emiliano Grillo … Mayakoba (1); Arnold Palmer (2); Charles Schwab (3)
Bill Haas … RSM (7); CareerBuilder (1); Genesis (3); WGC-Match Play (8); Heritage (4); Charles Schwab (2); Wyndham (6)
Adam Hadwin … CareerBuilder (1); Waste Management (4); Genesis (3); Valspar (2); John Deere (5)
Brian Harman … RSM (6); Sony (2); CareerBuilder (3); Arnold Palmer (7); Charles Schwab (1); Travelers (5); John Deere (4)
Russell Henley … RSM (1); Sony (2); Honda (4); Masters (3)
Charley Hoffman … Genesis (5); Arnold Palmer (2); Masters (4); Heritage (7); Valero (3); Charles Schwab (6); Travelers (1)
J.B. Holmes … Farmers (1); Waste Management (3); Pebble Beach (2); Genesis (4); Wells Fargo (5)
Billy Horschel … RSM (5); Honda (4); Arnold Palmer (7); Valero (2); New Orleans (3; defending); Wyndham (6); TOUR Championship (1)
Charles Howell III … Mayakoba (2); RSM (6); Sony (3); CareerBuilder (4); Farmers (1)
Zach Johnson … Sony (3); Waste Management (6); Arnold Palmer (7); Valero (4); Charles Schwab (5); John Deere (1); Open Championship (2); TOUR Championship (8)
Si Woo Kim … Mayakoba (2); PLAYERS (3); Heritage (1)
Chris Kirk … RSM (1); Sony (4); Valero (3); PLAYERS (5); Charles Schwab (2)
Kevin Kisner … RSM (1); Sony (4); Heritage (3); New Orleans (5); Charles Schwab (2); Memorial (6)
Matt Kuchar … Sony (3); Waste Management (4); PLAYERS (5); Valspar (9); Masters (6); Heritage (2); Charles Schwab (7); Memorial (1); Open Championship (8)
Martin Laird … CareerBuilder (6); Waste Management (1); Genesis (3); Valero (5); Barracuda (2)
Ryan Moore … Waste Management (12); Genesis (5); Valspar (3); Valero (7); Masters (13); Memorial (11); Travelers (6); John Deere (8); Wyndham (2); TOUR Championship (9)
Pat Perez … Mayakoba (4); Sentry (1); Farmers (2); Pebble Beach (5)
Scott Piercy … Mayakoba (6); Sony (3); New Orleans (1; co-defending); Canadian (7; last winner at Hamilton in 2012)
Jordan Spieth … Sentry (2); Sony (12); Pebble Beach (3); Genesis (10); WGC-Mexico (11); Valspar (14); Masters (1); PGA Championship (7); Charles Schwab (5); Memorial (13); U.S. Open (4); Travelers (9); Open Championship (6); TOUR Championship (8)
Kevin Streelman … Mayakoba (2); CareerBuilder (8); Pebble Beach (1); Valero (9); Heritage (5); Memorial (4); Travelers (7)
Gary Woodland … Sony (1); Farmers (2); Waste Management (3; defending); Memorial (4)