We’re going down Mexico way on Friday for the first of LIV Golf’s extended 14-tournament series but will the golf ever match the Saudi riches the lucky 48 are competing for - $405m in total, $25m per week, $4m to each individual winner, $3m per winning team and everyone who lines up for the 54-hole shotgun start paid handsomely?
Even the worst golfer won’t go hungry. He cops for a tidy $120,000. And that’s just the beginning … there’s the signing-on fee, from $10m to Dustin Johnson’s reported $180m … and a nice little earner for the champion golfer of the year.
Stepping forward to receive that $18m bonus at the end of last year’s inaugural 8-tournament starter in this fun alternative to the more traditional form of the game which it is trying, with mixed results, to supplant in our affections … yes, it was DJ himself.
No wonder Thomas Pieters is the latest big name to sign on the dotted line. Not being invited as the world No. 34 to the PGA Tour’s $20m money-fest at Riviera last week (but No. 52 Adrian Meronk was) apparently miffed the Belgian ace into a mind-change after promising Ryder Cup captain Luke Donald he’d be ready to roll in Rome.
But, money apart (the signing-on fee will be more than his career earnings), you can see the attraction. Pieters is a family man who doesn’t play a hectic schedule like the Meronks, Hojgaards, MacIntyres and Smiths of the tour, has already played one Ryder Cup so it’s not on his bucket list and 14 three-day tournaments a year is a perfect fit for him to have plenty of me-time.
I don’t see his defection as the big blow to Europe’s chances that others do. It just makes it easier for players like Sunday’s brilliant Thailand winner Thorbjorn Olesen or Pebble star Justin Rose or Austrian Sepp Straka or a few others to get their chance. There’s not a cigarette paper between any of them on ability, it’s really a case of picking the ones with the desire and the right attitude. Not Doubting Thomas clearly.
The last time LIV pulled a star European, Henrik Stenson, long since out of form in Europe, pulled off a 50/1 shock by winning first time out. Could Pieters do the same (but at much lower odds) at LIV Mayakoba?
As a DP World Tour winner last year and sixth on his last appearance in Dubai, that would make far more sense but most of the back-form we have for the El Camaleon Country Club - it must have been odds-on we’d have a course designed by LIV CEO Greg Norman on the rota - indicates this is a course for careful plodders rather than uninhibited bombers.
The first winner of the Mayakoba Classic back in 2007 was the shortest hitter in the field, Fred Funk, and the second winner, Brian Gay, only a yard or two longer. Champions since, Graeme McDowell, Brendon Todd, Russell Henley, Matt Kuchar, were all grafters and very different style of golfers to Pieters or another debutant, Bubba Watson, returning to action after eight months out of the game for knee surgery.
With temperatures nicely into the 80s under a Mexican sun and some noisy support in the party atmosphere LIV is trying to cultivate, the Latinos will be fancying their chances of putting the favourites, DJ and Open champion Cammie Smith, in the shade.
Smith flopped in the Australian Open and missed the cut in the Saudi International while Dustin was a late WD from the latter event after tweaking his back. So neither arrives advertising his claim.
There are plenty of Spanish-speaking hombres who will be feeling right at home this weekend - Mexicans Abe Ancer and Carlos Ortiz, Spaniards Sergio Garcia and Eugenio Chacarra, the longest-priced LIV winner so far in Bangkok, Chilean duo Joaquin Niemann and new signing Mito Pereira, who should be USPGA champion but blew it on the last hole, and Colombian Sebastian Munoz.
Niemann is my main man. This is his time of year - remember he won Riviera last February - and he is primed to perform, having placed 10th behind Ancer in the Saudi International, then shared 5th with Sergio in Oman.
A brilliant amateur and a fabulous shot-maker, at 24 he, unlike many of the big names, is at the peak of his powers. He almost won on his LIV bow in Boston, losing out in a three-way playoff to DJ, then placed fifth in Chicago and third in Jeddah. A first LIV victory is surely waiting to happen.
While curious to see which Bryson DeChambeau turns up now that he’s a slimmed-down model with a new diet and mindset, last year’s first six efforts were pretty pathetic and although Brooks Koepka won in Jeddah, his most recent golf has been so catastrophic he has to get his mind sorted. If there is to be an American winner, young Matt Wolff is a birdie machine who likes LIV’s format and, although he doesn’t fit the Identikit picture of a typical Mayakoba champion, he’s very much a law unto himself and might just run riot. Noted finishing tenth alongside Niemann in Saudi the other week, he’s ready to go.
For the main dangers to Niemann I’ll go with local talent in the shape of Ortiz and Ancer. The latter is the better golfer and was in fine form when beating Cameron Young in Saudi but he’s a LIV underachiever so far and his Mayakoba record is inferior to his Olympic partner who was runner-up to Todd in 2019 and Hovland at El Camaleon in 2021. True, the thought of that $4m first prize seemed to paralyze Ortiz when he had LIV Portland by the short and curlies last year but he clearly has the perfect game for this week’s 7017-yard set-up.
Jemermy Chapman's LIV Mayakoba Recommendations
Joaquin Niemann 9/1 (Each Way)
Matt Wolff 25/1 (Each Way)
Carlos Ortiz 35/1 (Each Way)
For the avoidance of doubt, Jeremy has provided us with his thoughts on this event and these selections do not contribute towards our P&L. To get our FREE official on LIV Golf Mayakoba picks, click HERE.