WGC MEXICO: The golf season continues to build momentum this week with the year’s first WGC event, the WGC-Mexico Championship. Though this will only be fourth renewal, this tournament has already carved a unique niche on account of its place on the schedule and the venue, Mexico City’s Club de Golf Chapultepec, an old-school course with quirks and options that set it apart from what players see most weeks on the PGA Tour. It has been described as a “European-style” course, which basically means that it’s not “target golf” and requires a bit of imagination and shotmaking to succeed.
Founded way back in 1928, Chapultepec is a par-71 that measures 7,345 yards but plays much shorter than that on account of the altitude– Mexico City is approximately 2,200 meters above sea level, meaning balls fly 10-15% further than they normally would. So the course actually plays rather short, and the longer guys have done quite well here over the past three years, though the Brian Harmans and Ian Poulters of the world have found success as well, meaning there’s more than one way to skin a cat at Chapultepec. The grass is identical to what players saw at Riviera last week– kikuyu fairways/rough, bent/poa greens– and though we only have three years of evidence to work with, there seems to be a high correlation between the two courses.
Like all WGC events, this tournament will be four rounds without a cut, so players who are capable of producing super-low numbers can overcome a mediocre round or two. In 2018, for instance, Justin Thomas found himself in the bottom-half of the field through two rounds, but a 3rd-round 62 vaulted him right back into contention, and he ended up in a 2-man playoff with eventual champion Phil Mickelson. Thomas (13.5) is one of the favorites again this week, with only Jon Rahm (13.0), Dustin Johnson (9.8), and Rory McIlroy (7.3) currently saddled with shorter odds. McIlroy heads BETDAQ’s Win Market, but it’s Johnson who has dominated this event, winning in both 2017 and 2019 and finishing 7th in 2018.
With a field of this caliber there are always a number of interesting options to consider, and though this tournament has been won by the big names thus far (DJ, Mickelson, DJ), players like Kiradech Aphibarnrat, Ross Fisher, and Brian Harman have nearly pulled it off, so we shouldn’t be afraid of the middle of the market. With that in mind, here’s what I’m thinking this week:
Recommendations to BACK (odds in parenthesis)
Xander Schauffele (24.0)- With top-25s in six of his past seven worldwide starts, including a pair of runner-ups, yet almost no pre-tournament buzz, Schauffele might be the single most overlooked player in the field this week. After taking some time off following his runner-up finish at Kapalua back in January, he looked plenty sharp in Phoenix, finishing 16th in the Waste Management despite a disappointing Sunday 74, and last week he rebounded from a 1-over par opening round to finish 23rd at Riviera. So his game is in excellent shape, there can be no denying that, and he’s shown that he can succeed at Chapultepec, finishing 18th in this tournament on debut in 2018 and then 14th last year, breaking par in 6 of his 8 career rounds here. He’s got a nice history in WGC events, too, winning the HSBC Champions in 2018 and finishing second last year, so he certainly won’t be intimidated by the strength of the field or the magnitude of the tournament. He’s a nice value at better than 20/1.
Sergio Garcia (62.0)- Though we hadn’t seen him stateside in 2020 prior to last week’s Genesis Open, where he finished 37th, Sergio has actually been playing quite well over the past couple of months, finding the top-25 in each of his three European Tour starts, a stretch highlighted by a T6 at the Saudi Invitational earlier this month. His ball-striking has been typically strong, as he ranks in the top-30 on the European Tour in GIR percentage and 15th in stroke average, and he seems to really like it at Chapultepec, finishing 12th-7th-6th in three appearances at this event and shooting par or better in all 16 of his competitive rounds at the course. In an interview last year he favorably compared Chapultepec to Valderrama, which he has long said is his favorite course in the world, and with his results here you can certainly understand his affinity for the place. I don’t think there are 10 guys that I would pick before Sergio this week, making him an excellent value at a price like 62.0.
Rafa Cabrera Bello (110.0)- I mean, am I missing something here? Is there an injury I don’t know about, or possibly an allergy to Mexican food or something? For the life of me, I can’t understand why Cabrera Bello is so long here considering he’s coming off a solid T17 in the Genesis Invitational last week, his second top-20 finish in the past month, and has an excellent history in this event which includes a 3rd-place showing in 2018 and a T19 last year. He’s a terrific driver of the ball, which partially explains why he’s performed so well at the narrow, tree-lined Chapultepec, and he putted extremely well on the bent/poa greens at Riviera last week, so there’s reason for optimism around the part of his game that generally holds him back. Cabrera Bello has proven repeatedly that he can succeed in the biggest of moments against the best of fields, so weekend shakiness is not a concern here. As a matter of fact, the only “concern” with him at a price like 110.0 is how much to bet, and how quickly you can get it down.