WGC Mexico Championship: Big name Americans the main fancies
The first World Golf Championship of the year commences in Mexico City this week, and here with his comprehensive preview of the event including a quintet of early bets placed is our man Steve Rawlings, aka The Punter...
"We really shouldn't read too much in to just two editions but course form stood up well last year and the first three home had all finished inside the top-ten 12 months earlier."
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 hasn't been quite so paranoid about visiting Mexico and we've had some decent fields here. Nobody's been kidnapped yet but we did see a number of cases of food poisoning two years ago.
This the third renewals of the WGC - Mexico Championship and it's the first World Golf Championship of the year.
Club de Golf Chapultepec, Mexico City, Mexico.
Par 71, 7,345 yards
Stroke Index in 2018 - 70.35
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 for the last two years, 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 last week's Genesis Open.
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 with the ball travelling around 10% further than it does at sea level. For more on the course, please see this guide form the PGA Tour website.
Full live coverage begins on Sky Sports at 19:00 UK time on Thursday and Friday and at 17:00 over the weekend and there will be Featured Group coverage from 17:00 on Thursday and Friday.
Last Five Winners
2018 - Phil Mickelson 2017 -16 (playoff)
2017 - Dustin Johnson -14
2016 - Adam Scott -12 (Doral)
2015 - Dustin Johnson -9 (Doral)
2014 - Patrick Reed -4 (Doral)
What Will it Take to Win the WGC Mexico Championship?
It looks tight off the tee, suggesting Driving Accuracy might be a key stat, but the more powerful players prospered here two years ago and although their stats didn't bear it out (they ranked 40th and 43rd for Driving Distance), last year's two playoff protagonists, the eventual winner, Phil Mickelson, and Justin Thomas, are both fairly long off the tee. I'd favour length over accuracy but the driving stats don't appear especially important.
The first six home in 2017 had an average Greens In Regulation ranking of 19.5 two years ago and last year they averaged exactly 16th so that's not a vital stat either. On what limited evidence we have to date, it looks like it's all about short game prowess.
The three best scramblers finished inside the top-five 12 months ago (Mickelson and Thomas ranked second and third) and the two best scramblers in 2017, Jon Rahm and Tommy Fleetwood, finished third and second respectively. Getting-up-and down frequently looks key to success and so too does putting...
Top scrambler, Kiradech Aphibarnrat, who finished tied for fifth 12 months ago, only had a Putting Average ranking of 29th but the first seven in the Putting Average rankings for the week all finished inside the top-eight and six of the first top-nine two years ago ranked 11th or better for Putting Average.
Is There an Angle In?
The obvious place to start is last week. Just like Riviera, Club de Golf Chapultepe's fairways are kikuyu and it's greens are a mixture of poa annua and bentgrass so it's hardly surprising that - that course appears to correlate nicely. The first two players to win this event here, DJ and Lefty, have both won at Riviera.
We really shouldn't read too much in to just two editions but course form stood up well last year and the first three home had all finished inside the top-ten 12 months earlier.
Is There an Identikit Winner?
Although the first two winners have been top-class American major winners, European Tour players have fared really well. Only four of the top-ten in 2017 were American and it was a similar story last year. The two playoff protagonists were both American major winners but only five of the top-11 were American. Both course winners of this event have been well-fancied before the off.
Will Fatigue be a factor Again?
Last year's renewal followed a particularly gruelling Honda Classic and although the Honda winner, Justin Thomas, eventually lost in the playoff here, he admitted he'd been fatigued and all the others that had contended in Florida struggled all week. Thomas recovered brilliantly but he was slow to get going. "I quite simply had nothing out there." Is what he said after he'd shot 72 in round one to trail by seven.
Lefty had been in fair form 12 months ago but he benefitted from a week off before winning and a number of players to content had played little golf in the month leading up to this event. In 2017, eight of the top-ten hadn't played the week before this event and it's quite possible that playing in poor conditions at both the AT&T Beach Pro-Am two weeks ago and at last week's weather-interrupted Genesis Open is a negative.
DJ sat tied for 20th after round one in 2017 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 might be the way to win here but it's clearly possible to win from off the pace looking at the first three home 12 months ago...
Lefty was six back at halfway and tied for 14th, Tyrrell Hatton, who missed out on the playoff by a stroke, was tied 20th and seven adrift and Thomas sat in a tie for 38th through 36 holes, 11 shots off the lead!
Mickelson was matched in-running at a high of [120.0], having started the week as a [38.0] chance, Hatton, who hit a low of [2.48], began the week as a [60.0] chance and he hit [500.0] in-running and Thomas, who was a well-fancied second favourite before the off, was matched at [690.0] in-play!
Don't get carried away by a quick start if you're betting in-running. The first hole is a drivable par four and the second is simple enough too so a birdie-birdie start or even an eagle-birdie start doesn't necessarily suggest someone's hit an incredible form streak and the shots can soon be given back at seven and eight - the two hardest holes on the course in each of the last two years.
The finish isn't too demanding after the tricky 13th and 14th holes. The par five 15th has been the easiest on the track in each of the last two years and the last three holes aren't too taxing.
He clearly loves the venue but there are enough negatives to have me swerving the favourite, Justin Thomas. He was obviously disappointing on Sunday at Riviera and one could excuse that as a one-off but he wasn't great in-contention at Phoenix three weeks ago either. Fatigue has to be a serious possibility and I'm happy to look elsewhere.
Quite what we'll see from the 2017 winner, Dustin Johnson, is anyone's guess after a couple of poor efforts at courses he loves. After winning in Saudi Arabia, DJ could only finish 45th at Pebble Beach and he plugged on well enough to finish ninth last week after a slow start. He's easier to dismiss than Thomas.
There's been a bit of money for Rory McIlroy and I can see why. He traded at just [1.88] during round two here two years ago (didn't play last year) and he's in nice form coming in to this year's renewal. He hasn't played too much, taking two weeks off after finishing fourth in the Sentry TOC and after his fifth placed finish at the farmers Insurance. He was fourth again on Sunday, without ever really threatening to win, and he looks nicely primed for a big week.
World number one, Brooks Koepka, hasn't been scrambling brilliantly or even playing especially well and on his only previous visit, two years ago, he finished down the filed in 48th place but he's lightly raced and I think that could be a big plus. He's also too big at [28.0], so I've had a small stakes saving wager on him for starters.
Defending champ, Phil Mickelson, was never in the hunt last week after winning at Pebble but he was just too big to leave out of the staking plan at [38.0] and the same can be said of last week's defending champion, Bubba Watson, at [50.0], given he's already shown an aptitude for the venue too (ninth last year). He was too short last week at 20/1 but he's more than fairly priced just seven days later at [50.0].
After a fourth at Pebble Beach and a fast-finishing third at Riviera, the 2017 Players champion, Si Woo Kim, is playing far too well to be ignored and I thought the same about China's Haotong Li who's Scrambling and putting stats have been superb.
Brooks Koepka @ [28.0]
Phil Mickelson @ [38.0]
Bubba Watson @ [50.0]
Si Woo Kim @ [65.0] - Non-Runner
Haotong Li @ [85.0]
*Please note, Si Woo Kim has now withdrawn so I've added Xander Schauffele at 28/1 instead
I'll be back tomorrow with the Puerto Rico Open preview.
*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter