WGC MEXICO: A limited field of 65 players heads south of the border this week for the WGC Mexico Championship, an event that was heavily-hyped last year after the politically-charged decision to move it from the Trump-owned Doral in Miami to Mexico City, but now has been relegated to a sort of lower-rung WGC status after the defection of five of the world’s top-15 players. That’s right, despite this being an official WGC event with a $10 million purse and 500 FedEx Cup points up for grabs, Rory McIlroy, Hideki Matsuyama, Jason Day, Henrik Stenson, and Brooks Koepka have all elected to stay home this week.
Maybe it’s the odd scheduling– Florida for the Honda last week, all the way over to Mexico, then back to Florida for the next two weeks– maybe it’s the funky golf course, maybe it’s the food poisoning that supposedly afflicted several players last year, but whatever the case, there’s no denying that this year’s tournament is closer to a run-of-the-mill PGA Tour event than a major championship in terms of field quality. In hindsight, it was probably a rushed and poorly-conceived decision to move this tournament away from Doral, where it thrived as the WGC-Cadillac and fit right in to the PGA Tour’s Florida Swing, but it’s all water under the bridge now, as Club de Golf Chapultepec will serve as the host venue through 2023.
Last year was the first time that most of the field had seen Chapultepec, but the course has been around for 90 years and has hosted its fair share of championship golf, with the Mexican Open last being held there in 2014. It measures 7,345 yards but plays much shorter due to Mexico City’s extreme elevation– the course sits approximately 7,800 feet above sea level, so we’ll see some absolute moonshots out there this week. Ignore what it says in the scorecard– Chapultepec just may be the shortest course most of these guys will see all season.
That being said, it certainly won’t be the easiest. Dustin Johnson took home the title last year at 14-under, but only 37 players broke par for the week and more guys finished double-digit over par than double-digit under par. The fairways are narrow and tree-lined, it’s difficult to control the ball out of the kikuyu rough, and the smallish, knobby bent/poa annua greens will give some players fits. It’s a quirky, old-style course that many feel favors the international contingent– Tommy Fleetwood was quoted last year as saying, “I think definitely myself and the European guys … we all love the course. It’s a very European course, so for us it was a good sign when we got here”. Fleetwood would go on to finish second, and three other European players– Jon Rahm, Ross Fisher, and Thomas Pieters– also found the top-5.
Johnson, the defending champ, heads BETDAQ’s Win Market at 8.6, followed by last week’s winner (tipped here) Justin Thomas (10.0), Jon Rahm (13.5), and Jordan Spieth (13.5). But the field does have some quality depth, as is usually the case with WGC events, so there’s plenty of value to be found further down the board.
Thomas made us happy last week, but I would’ve been even happier had Luke List won the playoff, as we were on him at better than 150/1. Let’s hope we can keep the momentum going with these three selections:
Recommendations to BACK (odds in parenthesis)
Jordan Spieth (13.5)- Though Spieth has registered top-20 finishes in four of the five events that he has played in 2018, he has yet to find the winner’s circle and hasn’t really been a factor on Sundays, so it’s been a quiet year by his standards. But he played very well at the Genesis Open two weeks ago, finishing 9th and improving every round (71-70-69-67), and Chapultepec shares some traits with Riviera– tight fairways, kikuyu rough, and poa annua greens. Spieth played this tournament last year and proved that he could light it up at Chapultepec, firing a third-round 63 en route to a 12th-place showing, and that was before he and caddie Michael Greller had a chance to learn the nuances of the course and really develop an informed plan of attack, something they’re notoriously good at. After his quality performance at Riviera and a week off to prepare, I think Spieth is primed for a big week and should be backed enthusiastically, even at a relatively short price like 13.5.
Tony Finau (48.0)– Finau will be making his debut appearance at this event, but based on the trajectory of his career I think he’s a safe bet to be a fixture in these WGC fields for years to come. He broke out in 2017, registering eight top-10s and finishing 8th on the official money list, and he’s carried the strong play over to this season, as he’s made 7 of 8 cuts and has a pair of runner-up finishes and four top-15s (plus a T16) to his credit. He’s coming off a T2 at the Genesis Open, where he opened with a 66 and broke 70 on both Saturday and Sunday, and two weeks prior to that he finished 6th at the Farmers Insurance Open, so he heads into this week in top form and full of confidence. As most know, length off the tee is really what sets Finau apart, and though Chapultepec plays pretty short due to the elevation, the top of the leaderboard was full of bombers last year: DJ, Rahm, Thomas Pieters, Justin Thomas, Rory, Phil… they all found the top-10. And while one year and one tournament may not be enough to make definitive pronouncements about a course, it seems clear that prodigious length certainly isn’t a hindrance at Chapultepec, and may indeed be a big advantage. This could be Finau’s week.
Joost Luiten (128.0)– Though he’s a bona fide longshot this week due in part to the fact that he hasn’t experienced much success in “elite field” events, Luiten is in top form at the moment and should be given serious consideration at the current price. He’s coming off a victory in his last start, the European Tour’s NBO Oman Open, where he shot 66-68 over the weekend to win by two shots. Prior to that he finished 11th in the Maybank Championship, where he also closed with 66-68, and he now has top-20 finishes in five of his past seven worldwide starts. Luiten isn’t particularly long off the tee but he’s a great iron player, ranking in the top-30 on the European Tour in Greens in Regulation in six of the past seven years, and GIR percentage was a very strong indicator of success at Chapultepec last year, more so than driving accuracy or putting proficiency. Luiten played this event last year and was solid, finishing the week at 3-under and tying for 25th, so there’s ample reason for optimism given his current form. I’m happy to take a chance on him at better than 125/1.
TOURNAMENT MATCH BETS
Tommy Fleetwood (1.8) vs. Alex Noren (2.1)
This should be a relatively easy answer: both of these guys are world-class players, but Fleetwood quickly took to Chapultepec last year and would up finishing second at 13-under par, while Noren struggled all week and finished at 4-over, only breaking 70 once. However, Noren has been so good lately that the opportunity to back him in a head-to-head situation at better than even money may be too good to pass up. After losing the Farmers Insurance Open in a playoff four weeks ago, Noren put in solid work in Phoenix (T21) and at Riviera (T16), and then last week he traveled across the country to a totally different type of course that was covered in grainy Bermuda grass and promptly finished third. You could put the guy on Mars next week and he’d undoubtedly find a way to break par. I’ve seen enough. Recommendation: Noren at 2.1
Phil Mickelson (1.9) vs. Sergio Garcia (1.9)
Mickelson is in the twilight of his career but you wouldn’t know it based on his recent results, as he went T5-T2-T6 in February’s three West Coast tournaments before skipping last week’s Honda Classic. And despite Chapultepec being known for its tight fairways, Mickelson managed to find success in this tournament last year, shooting 10-under for the week and finishing 7th. Garcia was also solid in this event last year, finish three shots behind Mickelson and tying for 12th, but Sergio’s been quiet in 2018 as he’s focused more on life outside the ropes. He finished 33rd at the Honda last week and just hasn’t shown enough lately to warrant much confidence. Recommendation: Mickelson at 1.9