The Diamante experience
Take a trip down to the tip of Baja and you'll find paradise on earth. Cabo San Lucas is a haven for resort traffic and beautiful weather. The first sixteen years of the World Wide Technology Championship were played in Riviera Maya on the east coast of Mexico. The tournament has moved to Mexico's west coast and the tip of the Baja California peninsula. The PGA TOUR is about to play the first course designed by Tiger Woods (2014).
Set along the Pacific Ocean, The Diamante resort community is built around 36-holes of tremendous golf landscape. Woods's el Cardonal course is a par 72 layout covering 7,452 yards from the tips. That's one of the longest courses on TOUR. Four par 3s, four par 5s, and 10 par 4s make up the championship scorecard. A field of 132 players are set to compete for $8.2 million dollars. The top 65 and ties will play the weekend and try to win the coveted $1.476 first-place check.
The weather looks perfect this week in paradise. Temperatures are forecasted in the upper 80s with little to no breeze from the ocean. The wind will be in the single digits and there's no rain in the forecast. There's a simple reason why the PGA TOUR has been coming to Mexico in November for quite some time. Three events remain in the FedEx Cup Fall. Remember these seven events are all about precious points. Eighty percent of this field or more needs to ensure they stay inside the top 125. Only one player is ranked inside the top 20 in the OWGR and just five players in the top 50!
On a brand-new course with wide open fairways and resort greens, you better pack your birdie bag along with your passport. The average green size at el Cardonal is 8,300 sq/ft. Covered in Paspalum seaside grasses the course will play very reminiscent to Corales in Punta Cana and Vidanta Vallarta in Puerto Vallarta. Paspalum is a sticky grass that survives well in coastal settings. Players find it easy to chip and pitch from and generally get frustrated by the lack of speed on the greens.
Tiger's design boasts 60 yard wide fairways and no rough. More than just beautiful, this is a bomber's paradise. At 7,400+ yards and super wide landing areas, length will be an incredible advantage. The average par 5 is 581 yards long and six par 4s stretch over 460 yards. Much like the spring setting for the Mexico Open at Vidanta Vallarta, if you can bomb it and putt, I like your chances at el Cardonal. Only one hole has water in play and just 48 bunkers are spread throughout the 18 holes.
Since this is a first-time venue, I have done a deep dive into the other Paspalum courses on the PGA TOUR to find those players who are capable of more than just a nice vacation in Cabo this week. For many in this field, it has been at least two weeks since their last competition. Only 78 played in Japan and that was over a week ago. Even if you have been racking up the frequent flyer miles, these last three weeks will really count. Players will need to manage their angles off the tee. Woods gives the resort guests plenty of room, but don't be fooled. To attack these large greens in the correct corner you must be on the best approach side of the fairway.
Great players like Jack and Tiger know how to present a second shot golf course. They have 11 green jackets between them and ANGC is one of the best designed approach courses in the world. For those that can putt Paspalum the next step is scoring. Four par 5s will only add to the total along with wide fairways. It will be interesting to see how deep they can go (Operators have the over under at 23.5). Does Woods's design have any tricks, or are we hoping for the wind to protect it? Because the breeze isn't coming, and no course is long enough for the game's best.
It's an amazing venue with plenty of scoring drama. The closing five holes look outrageously entertaining. Two par 5s, two long par 4s and a short par 3. Plan to play those holes three or four under on Sunday afternoon and you might just grab the trophy. Speaking of scoring, it's also time to start keeping an eye on the 125 guys. Doug Ghim, CT Pan, and Erik vanRooyen sit in the last three places. Cam Champ and Patton Kizzire are two bombers just outside that number. Don't forget the race to be in the 51-60 range. Those players get in the first two signature events. Beau Hossler leads that list while Mark Hubbard is just outside looking to get in.
Plenty to play for in Mexico at a place where everyone is a rookie for this week.
WWT Championship starts in...
I've always wondered what it would be like to watch the PGA TOUR play a Tiger Woods designed course. Woods only has a couple courses in his portfolio to this point, so it is tough to say what his tendencies are. Would he favor length, have small greens or large, and what would the putting surfaces be like? Some of those questions will be answered this week in Cabo San Lucas. At 7,400 yards the length question gets answered first. We are on the Pacific Ocean so flying the ball at sea level will favor the longer hitters. Not to mention, he has resort width fairways.
There have been some bombers playing well recently and a couple of them makes my card this week. The second trait Tiger would feature is long iron accuracy. Woods is the best long iron player of all-time. His highlight reel from long range would fill any top 10. Long par 4s and wide-open par 5s beg for guys to take dead aim from far away to score. Even more important than length, a player's ability to hit their mid and long irons close to the hole will be the biggest separating factor in the field. Three of the par 3s will play around 200 yards and six of the 10 par 4s are long.
I don't see a tremendous amount of short game skill needed for el Cardonal. These greens are some of the largest we have seen all season on TOUR. Substitute approach (lag) putting for chipping and that's a specific skill we are favoring. Getting the ball into the hole in two or less shots on these sticky greens will be a test. It just might be the second hardest challenge the field faces all week with no wind.
Since the course is new to the 132-man field, I'm also favoring those players who are most comfortable. The guys who have been playing well will be able to adjust and learn the course quickly. Recent form will really be a key I'm looking at for a large portion of the card. Talent off the tee is another key, but that's been covered completely. Many of the players in this field do not play the elite events. Therefore, they have course history on Paspalum at Mayakoba, or the secondary events in Punta Cana and Puerto Rico.
By looking through those results and the last two Mexico Opens, I have found a list of players I'm pointing toward. Scoring is another key to contending. I have measured par 4 and 5 performance. The winner will need 24 or more birdies to get the job done. I do believe we will see a few bogeys due to unfamiliarity. Overall, it will be a birdiefest with these wide-open fairways and large green complexes. Proximity plays a part and each guy’s ability to create legitimate birdie chances on approach.
Slow Paspalum greens mitigate great putters to a certain extent. They will still make plenty of birdies, but the mediocre flatstick warriors will as well. The calm conditions and large targets should keep this contest very close. In the end, I like this betting card of bombers and birdie makers.
Outright winners - World Wide Technology Championship
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One more week...
The LPGA heads to Japan for the last week of their month in Asia. The TOTO Japan Classic began in 1973 and has continued overseas for almost every year since. A combined field event between the LPGA and the Japan LPGA will bring together 78 players for four rounds without a cut. Forty-three of the women are LPGA members and 35 from the JLPGA. We have six past winners of the TOTO in the field and five of the 22 winners from this year competing. There's $2 million dollars on the line and winner's check of $300,000 waiting for one lucky woman. I mention lucky because after a nine-hole playoff last week, we now have had three straight playoffs on the LPGA tour.
The TOTO moves around and this year the venue is the Taiheiyo Club's Minori Course. The venue has hosted the Classic on three prior occasions. In a combined field event in 2016, 2017, and then just with the JLPGA during covid restrictions in 2020. Unlike the men, we have some history this week. The true challenge for our LPGA card is 45% of the field is from another tour. The JLPGA has some fantastic players and can compete with the LPGA ladies in Japan. Frankly, only one of the top 10 and just 10 of the top 30 are in the field so the elite of the JLPGA have a very good chance to take home the trophy.
The Minori Course measures 6,598 yards for the TOTO and plays to a par 72. Like Mexico, we have the standard complement of par 3s, 4s, and 5s across the card. Last week was an accuracy test in Malaysia and we are going to see that skill rewarded again. Fifty-four bunkers cover the landscape, and 10 holes have water in play. The tree lined landscape will reward strong drivers of the golf ball. I also am considering fatigue at this point in the Asia swing for LPGA based players traveling. It has been a long month; Shanghai, to Seoul, to Kuala Lumpur to Omitama.
At least the weather looks better than a week ago. Temperatures in the region northeast of Tokyo are forecasted for the high 70s. The field should remain dry during the first three rounds and possibly catch a little rain on Sunday afternoon. The wind forecast will be in the single digits all week and be more of a nuisance than an influence. The JLPGA has been playing a full schedule leading up to the TOTO and their elite are ready to take on the women of the LPGA.
Much of the history of the TOTO has been a 54-hole event. 2021 was the first time the ladies competed over four rounds. When looking back at the scoring history for the Minori Course, we must take that into account. In three editions, the average winning score was 17 under par. Shanshan Feng won in 2016 and 2017 while JLPGA star Jiyai Shin won in 2020. Looking through those leaderboards, I saw several of the same names. Repeat success is consistent theme on this course. Although the layout does not look tricky, familiarity with all the water and tree lined targets off the tee would make any player apprehensive if you lacked competitive experience.
For the 43 LPGA players in the field this is another huge week. Positioning yourself for the tour championship in two weeks is vital to closing the season on a high note. Many have left for Florida to prepare, but for those who are here, I'll be curious to see if they aren't thinking ahead. Throw in an elite cast from the JLPGA on a birdiefest course and I wouldn't be surprised to see a playoff for the fourth week in a row!
TOTO starts in...
The average winning score in three TOTOs on the Minori Course is 17 under par (54-holes). That's nearly 6 under par per round. I don't believe we'll get to 24 under for four rounds, but you better have an aggressive game plan for scoring. How do players go low at the Taiheiyo Club?
I believe it starts with the length of the course. The average par 5 is 511 yards. For many in the field those par 5s are reachable. If they are not on the green in two, they are close enough to score with some around the green acumen. Only three of the 10 par 4s are over 400 yards. Two of those come in the last four holes which may be too little too late to slow down the world's best women players. The average par 4 length is 385 yards. Approaches into the par 4s will almost entirely fall in the 125-150 range. If you're longer off the tee even closer.
I imagine many of you have not watched much of the Asia swing overnight for the past three weekends. What I can share with you is this will play the shortest of the four courses. As much as length will help, accuracy is really the key much like it was last week in Malaysia. After scoring potential, my next priority will be scoring average. Who can continue scoring round after round. I talk about the formula for 20 under par all the time. Over 72 holes you need 32-36 legitimate birdie opportunities.
Those scoring chances inside 25' must be converted with the flatstick. In a field where we have the convergence of two tours, we can predict who will hit the most greens and create those chances. We also know who has the proficiency with their putter to convert. Many of the tee shots on the Minori Course are positional. Simply put, they are essentially straight shots off the tee. As much as the course bends, the best players will play to specific spots and attack the green from there. Strokes gained off the tee and driving accuracy also give us a small list of candidates to consider.
Those who consistently hit the correct side of the fairway will have an edge on approach. The fairways are Zoysia grass, and the ball will be sitting up. The greens are Bentgrass. They look pure and have proven to help players make putts. Two winners at 19 under par for 54-holes is pretty darn deep. Nine of the last ten winners have been Asian born players. Just Gemma Dryburgh one year ago is the lone player who wasn't.
Our card favors that trend and the JLPGA. The elite LPGA players who can win this week have to be looking ahead. Those who remain in Japan have been traveling for a month and must face some fatigue. The card is full of hot players from the JLPGA and one LPGA star from Japan.
Outright winners - TOTO Japan Classic
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