The third LIV Golf season will kick off in Mayakoba for the second consecutive year. The 14-tournament 2024 slate figures to be the most compelling yet after a number of offseason changes. Two-time major winner Jon Rahm will be making his LIV Golf debut after signing with the league last fall, and has his new Legion XIII team that includes Ryder Cup partner Tyrrell Hatton. 2023 Individual Champion Talor Gooch was traded in the offseason from RangeGoats GC to Brooks Koepka’s Smash GC. Bryson DeChambeau’s Crushers GC retained all its members and will be looking to repeat as team champions in 2024.
There really aren't many better places to begin a new season than El Camaleon Golf Course in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. The course meanders through a tropical jungle and features incredible views of the Caribbean Sea. The Greg Norman design has hosted a number of world-class golf events for well over a decade. Last year, Charles Howell III prevailed at Mayakoba by four shots over Peter Uihlein at 16-under-par. Crushers GC ran away from the field to a nine-shot victory in the team competition.
The keys at Mayakoba are relatively simple: hit greens and sink putts. The par-71 track has always been very gettable for the best players in the world, and at just over 7,100 yards it allows players of all distances to compete. Accuracy off the tee will be important, not because the rough is terribly penal, but because of some of the trouble lurking out there, none more terrifying than "Devil's Mouth" -- a cave bunker that sits directly in the center of the fairway on the par-5 seventh hole. The Paspalum greens roll as true as any you will find, so if you are on with the putter, you will make a lot of birdies.
LIV Golf Fantasy returns for another year, and it looks the same as many remember it. Fantasy players will select four golfers, a substitute and a LIV Golf team. The top three golfers will make up your score for each round, along with your LIV Golf team score to par. The substitute golfer can be used to move in for rounds two or three and will be eligible to earn scores for your squad. Fantasy players will also be able to select only one captain for each event, and no more than two players from the same LIV Golf Team.
With all that in mind, let's run through some of the top fantasy options for Mayakoba and dive into my pick to claim the $20 million first-place prize.
Mayakoba is a dream setup for Smith. He is the best putter on LIV Golf and should rack up birdies and eagles provided he keeps it in play off the tee. Smith stayed busy after the 2023 LIV Golf season ended, notching a runner-up at the Hong Kong Open and a T17 at the Australian Open. The Aussie scored a top-5 finish a year ago at Mayakoba and has a great chance to go for a record fourth LIV Golf victory.
Speaking of staying busy, no player on LIV Golf is in better form than Niemann, who has finished top-5 in three straight starts -- the Australian PGA, Australian Open (win) and Dubai Desert Classic. Niemann carves his ball through the wind better than most, which could be a benefit if we get some gusts off the Caribbean. Niemann ranked T7 in GIR percentage last season and has an excellent shot at his first LIV Golf win.
You'd be hard-pressed to leave the defending series champion off your roster. No matter the setup nor the location last year, you knew Gooch was going to find himself in contention. He was certainly in the mix a year ago at Mayakoba, but a 5-over final round pushed him to a T11. There are no weaknesses in Gooch's game; driving, approach, short game, putting -- you name it, he excels at it.
Uihlein finished runner-up a year ago at Mayakoba and will be looking to get off to another fast start to the season, this time in a new fit. Uihlein was traded in the offseason from 4Aces GC to RangeGoats GC. You must think he will have a chip on his shoulder. Last season Uihlein led in driving distance and was also second in putts per hole, typically a pretty potent combination.
Ortiz has a ton of experience at Mayakoba and will be making his 10th start there this year. He owns a pair of runner-up finishes and five total top-10s, one of which came in the LIV Golf opener last year. Ortiz should have a fair amount of home support, and his putting and short-game prowess should shine through on this venue.
Ancer has had his own success at Mayakoba, finishing T21 or better in six straight starts -- one of which was a T15 last year in the LIV Golf opener. Ancer is a great fit for Mayakoba because he is a terrific putter and one of the most accurate players off the tee. Ancer -- who will also be playing in front of the home crowd -- ranked 10th in birdies per round last season, and you should expect to see quite a few out of him this week.
CHARLES HOWELL III
It's hard to ignore the defending champion. Howell ran away from the field a year ago at Mayakoba behind an impressive eight-under 63 in the final round. The 44-year-old has had a lot of success on this course, with four top-10s and 10 top-25s. Howell ranked top-10 last season in GIR percentage and scrambling. If the breezes pick up, that plays right into his hands.
This is a sneaky team to watch out for early in the season. The four South Africans played a lot of golf on their home turf late in 2023, with Louis Oosthuizen and Dean Burmester combining to win four events. Branden Grace is no slouch either, posting a podium finish at Mayakoba a year ago, and Charl Schwartzel finished runner-up to Oosthuizen at the Alfred Dunhill Championship.
There was a little internal tension last year at Smash GC between Captain Koepka and Matthew Wolff. With the latter having been swapped for Gooch and Graeme McDowell having been signed as a free agent, this team has all the looks of one that will be contending for the Team Championship in 2024. Jason Kokrak was top-5 in GIR percentage last season and held a share of the first-round lead at Mayakoba in 2023. With Rahm coming in, that should fuel Koepka to prove he is the top dog in LIV Golf.
PAT PEREZ: Former Mayakoba champion picked up his fourth career top-10 finish at the course last year.
ANDY OGLETREE: International Series champion won twice last year and finished top-15 in six of his last seven starts.
MATT JONES: Ranked top-10 in putts per hole last season and notched a T4 and a runner-up in two Asian Tour events in August of 2023.
GRAEME McDOWELL: Former winner at Mayakoba who is coming off three straight top-15 finishes on the Asian Tour.
There are a lot of great players to choose from this week, and they come in with varying amounts of competitive rest. Smith checks all the boxes and should be a factor down the stretch at Mayakoba. The Aussie posts 15-under-par to win by two strokes over Talor Gooch and Joaquin Niemann, who round out the podium.
Ryan Andrade has covered golf, college basketball, and motorsports for RotoWire since 2016. He was nominated for "DFS Writer of the Year" in 2021 by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.