WGC Mexico Championship: Rahm all rested and ready

Dustin Johnson finishing up on 18 last year
Dustin Johnson winning last year’s WGC-Mexico Championship
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We've got the year's first WGC event to look forward to this week so read our man's comprehensive preview ahead of Thursday's start here...

Tommy Fleetwood, who ranked fifth, was the only player in the top-15 to rank inside the top-ten for Driving Accuracy but the three men that traded at odds-on - Rory McIlroy, John Rahm, and the winner, Dustin Johnson - were only out-driven by Bubba Watson. It looked like a tight and tricky course off the tee but power proved advantageous.

Tournament History

First staged in 1999 and known as the WGC-American Express, the WGC-Mexico Championship has also been known as the WGC-CA Championship and between 2011 and 2016, the WGC-Cadillac Championship.

Over the first eight years, the event was staged at different venues in the States and Europe before it took root in Florida in 2007 at the iconic 'Blue Monster' at Doral, which had previously hosted the now defunct Ford Championship between 1962 and 2006.

Doral looked like being the tournament's permanent home but then Donald Trump bought the resort out of bankruptcy for $150 million and spent another $250 million on a comprehensive renovation which was universally unpopular so on June 1 2016, they announced it would be moved to Mexico. A decision Trump didn't take kindly to.

"I just heard the PGA Tour is taking their tournament out of Miami and moving it to Mexico," he said. "They're moving it to Mexico City which, by the way, I hope they have kidnapping insurance. They're moving it to Mexico City and I'm saying: 'What's going on here?' It is so sad when you look at what's going on with our country."

Thankfully, the golf world wasn't quite so paranoid about visiting Mexico and we did get a decent field last year but the quality's dropped off a bit this time around for what is the first of the year's four WGC events and it's disappointing to see the likes of Hideki Matsuyama, Jason Day, Brooks Koepka, Rory McIlroy and Henrik Stenson all absent. There were a number of cases of food poisoning least year so I suspect that may be one of the reasons a few are missing and it's probably why Rory McIlroy's absent given he was one of the afflicted.

Venue

Club de Golf Chapultepec, Mexico City, Mexico.

Course Details

Par 71, 7,330 yards
Stroke Index in 2017 - 71.05

Designed by Scottish brothers, Willie (1899 US Open winner) and Alex Smith, the Club de Golf Chapultepec opened in 1928 and in addition to hosting this event 12 months ago, it's been the host course for the Mexico Open many times. It was the permanent home for the tournament from 1944 to 1960 before the event began rotating venues. It was last used for the Mexico Open in 2014 when Columbia's Óscar David Álvarez won by a stroke in 17-under-par.

The tree-lined fairways are kikuyu and the greens a mix of Poa annua and bentgrass - just like Riviera, the venue for the Genesis Open two weeks ago.

Club de Golf Chapultepec will be the venue for this event right up until 2023 as part of a seven-year agreement.

Mexico City is at altitude so although a long course on paper, it doesn't play as long as it's yardage suggests. For more on the course, please see this guide form the PGA Tour website.

Weather Forecast

TV Coverage

Unfortunately, there doesn't appear to be any Featured Groups coverage this week but the event is live on Sky Sports all four days - starting at 19:00 on Thursday.

Last Five Winners

2017 - Dustin Johnson -14
2016 - Adam Scott -12
2015 - Dustin Johnson -9
2014 - Patrick Reed -4
2013 - Tiger Woods -19

What Will it Take to Win the WGC - Mexico Championship?

Stats-wise, power off the tee was more important than accuracy last year. The runner-up, Tommy Fleetwood, who ranked fifth, was the only player in the top-15 to rank inside the top-ten for Driving Accuracy but the three men that traded at odds-on - Rory McIlroy (who hit [1.88] on day two), John Rahm, and the winner, Dustin Johnson - were only out-driven by Bubba Watson. It looked like a tight and tricky course off the tee but power proved advantageous.

How you used the power was important 12 months ago though. DJ, and to a lesser extent, Rahm, seemed to make good decisions off the tee, but Rory used driver far too often and found a lot of trouble. The big advantage the more powerful players were getting wasn't necessarily off the tee but with their approaches. Being nearer to the greens and therefore being able to put more loft in the their hands on approach, in order to find the smaller than average tricky greens, was where they really made hay. The first two home ranked tied fifth for Greens In Regulation last year, and Ross Fisher, who finished alongside Rahm in third, ranked second.

Putting wasn't an especially important stat last year - it was all about getting to the green. The first two ranked first and second for Strokes Gained Tee to Green and they also ranked tied fifth for Greens In Regulation. Ross Fisher, who finished alongside Rahm in third ranked second for GIR. If you did miss the small greens, recovering well was key also with Rahm and Fleetwood (tied third and second) ranking first and second for Scrambling.

Is There an Angle In?

A lot was written about the importance of playing at altitude before the off last year and whilst I can see the logic for finding players with a decent record at altitude, the best angle-in might be to look at form at courses with poa annua greens. DJ won at Riviera before he won here, so that might be a form line to ponder, but form at Torrey Pines might prove a better guide on the evidence of this year's result. Rahm, Phil Mickelson and Brandt Snedeker all putted well on the tricky, hard-to-read greens last year and they've all won the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines which also have poa annua putting surfaces.

Whilst this is far from a straightforward test, there's no wind in the forecast and I just wonder if taking last week off might be a plus. Last week's breezy event in Florida was a bit of a grind and it may well have taken it out of a few. It's interesting to note that only two players inside the top-ten last year played the Honda Classic. Thomas Pieters, who missed the cut in the Honda before finishing tied fifth, and Tyrell Hatton, who followed a fourth in Florida with a 10th place here.

The winner, DJ, had won the Genesis Open a fortnight prior to doubling-up here and he was one of eight to finish inside the top-ten that had - had at least a week off. I'm not sure you had to be especially fresh to play this event but being buffeted about in the wind at the Honda Classic doesn't look like good preparation if last year's result is anything to go by.

Is There an Identikit Winner?

Although the event was won by South Carolina's Dustin Johnson, it was noticeable how well the European Tour players fared here and there were only four Americans in the top-ten.

In-Play Tactics

The course opens with a short par four that last year gave up nine eagles and 112 birdies and the par four second is simple enough too but the two hardest holes were 7 and 8 and four of the hardest six holes were on the front nine so a good start can soon be squandered.

The front nine averaged more than half a stroke over par last year while the back-nine averaged almost half a stroke under.

DJ sat tied for 20th after round one last year but he was only three strokes off the lead and he trailed by the same margin (in a tie for fifth) at halfway. He was only one off the lead with a round to go suggesting being up with the pace is the way to win here but one event is nowhere near enough evidence to work with and that the second and tied-third, Fleetwood and Fisher, trailed by four and six with a round to go and they were only beaten by one and two strokes.

Market Leaders

Defending champ, Dustin Johnson, heads the market and favourite backers will be hoping he makes a better fist of his defence than he did at Riviera a fortnight ago. After a disappointing performance in-contention at Pebble Beach, DJ moved on to the Genesis Open to defend but could only finish 16th.

Missing last week's Honda in his home state of Florida looks like it could be a good move (see above) but I'm not sure there's much juice in his price given his recent form.

Sunday's Honda winner, Justin Thomas, is arguably a fair price yet again given he led through 54 holes last year and that's he's now won seven of his last 31 events. Last week was a really tough grind though and this might just be a bit soon for the world number three.

Jon Rahm finished 2017 with a win on the European Tour and he began 2018 with a victory on the PGA Tour. In between his successes in the DP World Tour Championship and the CareerBuilder Challenge, he finished an excellent second to DJ at the Sentry Tournament of Champions but having failed to defend his Farmers Insurance Open title at Torrey Pines, and having dropped out of contention in Phoenix after a decent start, as well as failing to shine at Pebble Beach, he looked in desperate need of a rest.

Now well-rested, I expect to see him contend again at a venue we know suits him and the only possible negative is the fact that he could move from number two to number one in the Official World Rankings.

With Augusta preparation the main aim, Jordan Spieth deliberated about coming here and he wasn't decided until late on. He shot 63 in round three last year so there muct be something about the place he likes but his other three rounds were in the 70s and I'm still not convinced he's putting quite well enough at present. His top-ten finish at the Genesis is a plus though and so too is the fact that he didn't play last week.

Tommy Fleetwood keeps playing terrific golf and he finished second here last year but he was available at ten times the price he trades at this year and again, he's another that might be disadvantaged by figuring strongly last week..

Selections

Although I always try to be as impartial as I possibly can, it's absolutely impossible not to be affected by past wagers and my only two picks this week have both done me favours recently.

I was onboard Jon Rahm when he won in Dubai and in California and I thought he was in desperate need of a break after that so I'm more than happy to forgive a few slightly disappointing efforts and I was happy to get him onside at around 12/1. He's gone well when fresh before and I fancy he'll do so again here.

My only other pick before the off is the Sony Open winner, Patton Kizzire, who seems a monstrous price at [130.0]. He missed the cut at the Honda last week, which should prove to be a blessing, but I'm happy to run a line through that effort anyway. He was playing with Tiger Woods for the first time and it's impossible to gauge how much that affected him. He was chatting to the GOAT at every possible opportunity and I just wonder what was more important, playing with Tiger or winning the Honda.

In addition to winning the Sony, he won the OHL Classic in Mexico and he finished second here on the Web.com Tour too so we know he's very comfortable south of the border. He wasn't in the field 12 months ago so course compatibility is unknown but given he's second in the FedEx Cup standings and looking for his third win in eight starts I was happy to overlook that given his price.

Selections:
Jon Rahm @ [13.5]
Patton Kizzire @ [130.0]

I'll be back on Thursday or Friday with the In-Play Blog.


*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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