WGC – Mexico Championship
For the fourth week running I find myself starting our weekly preview reviewing a case of the ‘what might have been’ from last weeks event as our 250-1 shot Luke List headed in to Sunday in a prime position to bag us a great e/w pay out.
His playing partners on the day Kang and Brown both showed him the way as they both bagged a share of second place however Luke unfortunately was the odd man out in the three ball shooting 75 to tumble down the leader board and make it another hugely frustrating Sunday for us.
Still, the positive to take is that every week so far in 2020 we have had players with either win or place chances going in to Sunday and if we can keep this up it can only be a matter of time until we strike gold in round four again.
Moving on and after four weeks on the West Coast the Tour now heads to Mexico for the first WGC of the year.
Up until 2016 this event was played in Miami at Doral, however the decision was made to move the event across the border in to Mexico for the 2017 edition and this proved to be a great success.
The top 50 in the OWGR gain automatic entry. The field is then topped up through Fedex Cup & Euro tour ranking positions from both last year and this, with players who have finished inside the top 2 on the Japan, Australasian, Sunshine and Asian Tour Order of Merits in 2019 then added.
Finally the top ranked Mexican player in the OWGR who is not already eligible receives an invite meaning that with Abraham Ancer already in the field Carlos Ortiz also lines up.
The field this week in all honesty is weaker than the first three editions here with Koepka, Rose, Cantlay, Woods, Day, Fowler and Stenson all choosing to take the week off.
Having said that there are still plenty of big names in attendance and the market is headed up by Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson and Justin Thomas.
As noted above Club Du Golf Chapultepec was introduced as the host course in 2017 when the event moved to Mexico.
The course was designed by Willie & Alex Smith in the early 1920’s and then underwent a significant redesign from Percy Clifford in 1972. Further changes were then made before it’s introduction to the WGC roster.
The course is a par 71 playing to just over 7300 yds.
The rough is Kikuyu comparable to what we saw last week at Riviera and the greens are Bent/Poa as found on the West Coast Swing.
The main point to note though, both in general and with regards to the length of the track, is that the course is ‘at altitude’ at over 7000 feet above sea level. This makes the ball fly further than normal so distance of the tee in theory is not an issue here.
For reference other events on the PGA Tour where altitude is a factor to differing degrees are the Barracuda Championship, The Shriners Hospital For Children Open and the CJ Cup.
Meanwhile the event on the European Tour to look to for ‘altitude specialists’ is the Omega European Masters played at Crans-Sur-Sierre in the Swiss mountains.
Club Du Golf Chapultepec can be described as a classical test as it features narrow, tree lined fairways and smaller than average greens.
As the event has only been at it’s present home for three years it seems pointless to look back further than the 2017 edition.
Here are the winners since the tournament moved to Mexico.
2019 D Johnson
2018 P Mickelson
2017 D Johnson
Looking at the short history at Club Du Golf Chapultepec and whilst with only three years to go on it is quite possibly too early to draw any big conclusions it appears to be a case that players who arrive here in really strong form are rewarded for having all components of their game in top working order.
In 2017 the world No 1 at the time Dustin Johnson was in the middle of a ‘tear up’, during which he won on three consecutive starts while 2018 winner Phil Mickelson was also in a purple patch of form having finished 5th, 2nd & 6th in his previous three starts.
Last year meanwhile DJ bagged his second victory in three starts here on the back of a ninth place at the Genesis the week before.
From a point of view of course correlation, again it is obviously dangerous to try to connect too many dots after just three years, however it hasn’t escaped my attention that both of the winners here to date, DJ and Phil could be seen as specialists at Pebble Beach, another course that features smaller than average greens so this may well be something to keep an eye on as the years go by.
In addition as noted earlier with the kikuyu rough being comparable to what we saw at Riviera last week form at the Los Angeles track whether this year or in the past must be worth considering.
Finally re course correlation I am sure it is not insignificant that the three winners to date have all been players with really strong records in California who are comfortable on the Poa Annua greens the players face this week.
Whilst we only have three years course history to go on if we look back to the recent history of WGC events as a whole it is clear to see that the roll of honour is dominated by the leading players in the game.
In the last seven years DJ has six WGC’s to his name, Rory three, Hideki two, Tiger two, Bubba two and Jason Day two, with others being won by Justin Thomas, Koepka, Scott, Rose, Reed, Kuchar, Mickelson and Schauffele.
Indeed the only three winners of WGC’s over the past 7 years who could be seen as more left field would be Shane Lowry [at the time], Russell Knox and Kevin Kisner at last years Matchplay.
On the flip side of this because the betting market is so heavily dominated by the big names if you do fancy a lesser name to go well you can get some fancy e/w prices and indeed three years ago we benefited from a stellar performance from an in form Tommy Fleetwood to grab a place at 200-1.
Players should find conditions to their liking this week with all four days looking to be dry and sunny with temperatures set to stay around 80.
Wind could be a slight issue over the first couple of days with gusts of 15mph possible. The weekend then shows nothing more than 10mph in the forecast.
As I always say though this could all change!
I have gone with 4 players this week as follows;
HIDEKI MATSUYAMA – 20-1 – 2pts e/w – 1/5 odds 1st 7. - FINISHED T6th
It’s always a tricky business finding the right strategy in these WGC events.
As highlighted above the winner is most likely to come from one of the elite players in the field, however from a betting point of view the limited field size, coupled with the fact that a chunk of the participants who have qualified via worldwide order of merit finishes can’t realistically be considered as winners, means you aren’t going to be getting any favours from the bookies on the market leaders prices.
The decision therefore is do we hunt for e/w value or do we stick to the top end of the market? Well, on this occasion, and with slight trepidation, I have decided to take my chances and swerve the ‘big three’ at the top of the market and instead take the safety net of the e/w market.
We start therefore with Hideki Matsuyama.
The Japanese star has undoubtedly been expensive to follow over the past twelve months or so as time and again he has threatened to get back in to the winners enclosure only to flatter to deceive.
This week the mantra for the 27yr old is very similar to that, which in all fairness you could have posted on several occasions during this period…He is one good putting week away from destroying a field.
After a fairly low key opening to 2020 which saw Hideki finish 45th at Torrey Pines and 16th at his beloved TPC Scottsdale he looked to be stumbling towards a MC at Riviera, however on Friday afternoon after taking six at the par 5 17th to sit outside the cutline he hit his approach to 2ft at the 18th for birdie and, after making the cut on the number, Hideki’s whole week changed.
Saturday saw Hideki shoot a joint low round of the week 64, which he then backed up with a solid 69 on Sunday to end the week in a tie for fifth place.
If we then look at Matsuyama’s numbers for the week we will see that he finished first for both strokes-gained-off-the-tee and strokes-gained-tee-to-green.
Not unsurprisingly the bulk of his work in these departments was done over the weekend and he gained over nine strokes on the field over Saturday and Sunday from tee to green.
So Hideki arrives here with some serious momentum from his weekend in LA and while his form in his two starts at Club Du Golf Chapultepec has not exactly been spectacular his 19th place finish last year showed he can certainly find his way around the track.
In addition whilst he doesn’t boast the form of a Johnson or McIlroy here I am mindful that with Hideki current form tends to trump course form and this was never more pertinent than when he destroyed a world class field at the WGC HSBC Champions in 2016 having produced nothing in three previous starts in the event.
Away from course form here and with the ability to play at altitude being a significant factor it is certainly also worth noting that Hideki finished third at the CJ Cup last October, another event, which is significantly affected by altitude.
In all honesty it is quite possible to make a strong case for any one of those at the top of the market, however with Hideki arriving here with the requisite top ten finish in his previous start that the first three winners at this venue have had I am happy to take my chance, with the e/w safety net, that he can build on last weekend and make this the week he gets back in to the winners enclosure.
COLLIN MORIKAWA – 40-1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 7 - FINISHED 42nd
For my next pick this week I am going to take a bit of a risk and side with a player who is making his debut at Club Du Golf Chapultepec.
The man in question is Collin Morikawa and the simple reason for siding with the youngster is that I can’t help but feel his tee to green game will be made for this venue.
Since coming out on tour Morikawa has shown a frighteningly strong level of consistency and he is yet to miss a cut in his short professional career.
Last week at Riviera this record looked in serious danger as Collin stumbled to +4 to the turn in round one, however he salvaged a 73 and after shooting 67 on Friday he comfortably made the weekend.
Saturday saw another solid 68 and after going 4 under for his first four holes on Sunday he was right in the hunt for the title.
Unfortunately though after a couple of bogeys on the sixth and ninth disaster struck on the par five 11th as Collin five putted from 22ft to tumble out of contention.
Allowing for this calamity on the greens Morikawa finished the week in 26th place, however this result disguises the fact that his iron play was again bang on as the player who currently ranks fourth for the season in strokes-gained-approach-to-the-green finished the week ranked second in this statistic.
So with Morikawa’s iron play in principal tailor made for the track we obviously still have the negative that he is making his debut here, particularly as the course plays at altitude.
Fortunately then while Collin has no experience in the altitude of this venue his maiden PGA Tour title came last July in the Barracuda Championship an event played at altitude in Reno.
In addition Morikawa now makes his home on Las Vegas where I am sure he gets plenty of opportunity to play golf at altitude.
On that basis there is no doubt that Morikawa will be comfortable with the challenges that the altitude offers the players this week.
To sum up there is no doubt that backing a debutant in this event at these odds carries an element of risk but I really do think this venue is ideal for the 23yr old and I am happy to take a chance on those grounds.
SERGIO GARCIA – 40-1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 7 - FINISHED 37th
If we are looking for a player who we know can handle the track and is more than capable of winning in this company then the one who sticks out to me in the betting at very attractive e/w odds is Sergio Garcia.
The Spaniard has tee’d it up in all three editions of the event since it moved to Mexico and he has posted finishes of 6 7 12, improving slightly on each occasion.
As we know Sergio’s game slumped significantly after his defence of his Masters title resulted in a MC in 2018 and he was in the doldrums until a victory at the Andalucia Masters at the back end of that year.
Early 2019 saw controversy for Sergio as he was disqualified in Saudi Arabia for taking out his frustrations on the greens and he arrived here in Mexico a few weeks later with that incident still hanging over him.
This time around with another win under his belt at the KLM Open last autumn and a couple of early season top ten finishes in Europe including one on his return to Saudi Arabia, Garcia arrives here in a far better frame of mind and he will surely be a dangerous contender at a course he must be very comfortable on.
Last week Sergio acclimatised himself to the poa and the kikuyu at Riviera finishing 37th, exactly the same result that he posted there last year prior to his sixth place in this event. This year though Sergio should arrive here in a far better state of mind than last.
At Riviera Garcia’s tee to green game was in really good shape as he finished the week fourth in strokes-gained-off-the-tee and tenth in strokes-gained-tee-to-green so this bodes well going in to the week and with the incentive to secure a Ryder Cup place very much driving him on I can see a big performance from him in Mexico.
GRAEME MCDOWELL – 100-1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 7 - FINISHED 69th
For my final selection this week I can’t get away from including what I feel is a hugely overpriced Graeme McDowell.
Gmac has been very much rejuvenated over the past twelve months and courtesy of his victory in Saudi Arabia recently he currently sits third in the Race To Dubai.
A four time PGA Tour winner including of course at the US Open at Pebble Beach Gmac most recently tasted victory on the PGA Tour at the Corales Puntacana event at the end of March last year and that was the springboard to his great form that has seen him post four further top tens world wide along with the Saudi Arabia win.
In addition of course Graeme’s strong play saw him get a birth at the Open at Portrush and a return to Pebble Beach for the US Open.
Another benefit of his great form is that Gmac now finds himself back at the big money end of the game and teeing it up at WGC’s and while this is his debut in this event I expect the track to play right to his strengths.
Tenth in strokes-gained-approach-to-the-green this season on the PGA Tour and always strong with the flat stick Gmac should be perfectly at home on a course that offers up some of the smallest greens on tour.
In addition allowing for the small greens as I mentioned earlier it is quite possibly no coincidence that the final leaderboards over the past three years have seen a strong link with Pebble Beach specialists courtesy of Johnson and Mickelson and as we know Gmac is more than comfortable at that venue, as he is on the poa annua.
Finally his 16th place at the CJ Cup last Autumn along with his huge experience in general reassure me that the challenge of the altitude should not be an issue.
Still only 40yrs old, Gmac has plenty of strong golf in him and he will undoubtedly be eyeing a return to Ryder Cup action and a big week this week would go a long way to helping with that goal.
A former winner on Mexican soil at the Mayakoba Graeme proved when taking down DJ and Mickelson in Saudi Arabia recently [note the Pebble connection again] that he can still outplay the big names on the right track and I expect this venue, where his lack of length is not an issue, to offer him the opportunity to do so again this week.
UPDATED 18th FEBRUARY
FANTASY DRAFT KINGS PICKS
PICK 1 - CARLOS ORTIZ - DK VALUE - $6600 - FINISHED 16th - DK POINTS TOTAL - 79.5
We sided with Ortiz in this section last week at Riviera and he did us proud so I've decided to follow the old adage this week of 'it it aint broke don't fix it'.
Solidly ranked this season in all areas and 25th on tour in strokes-gained-total Ortiz has been in great form missing only two cuts in nine starts and posting two top five finishes.
With the home crowd behind him, but with the bulk of their expectancy most likely falling on the shoulders of the far higher ranked Ancer, I can see him free wheeling to another solid week.
PICK 2 - LUCAS HERBERT - DK VALUE - $6700 - FINISHED 58th - DK POINTS TOTAL - 54
It has been a fantastic 2020 so far for Australian golf with the latest triumph coming from Adam Scott last weekend at Riviera.
Herbert did his bit to fly the Aussie flag at Dubai in January to lift his first European Tour title and he should still be riding the crest of the wave as he tee's it up in his first WGC this week.
A top ten finish at Crans Sur Sierre last year at the Omega European Masters shows that Lucas can handle a comparable shortish track at altitude and with no pressure at all on his shoulders this week courtesy of a guaranteed paycheck I expect a strong performance from him.