It was a frustrating week for us at the Zurich Classic pairs event as all three of my team picks made the weekend and were on the fringes of contention but were unable to get in a serious blow at the top of the leaderboard or threaten a place.
While the young studs Theegala and Suh threatened to make a charge in to the frame on Sunday they faltered badly on the back nine with a closing eight seeing them topple down the leaderboard. In the end then it was left to the team of Burns and Horschel to log our best finish in 11th.
The event in the end was won by the team of Davis Riley and Nick Hardy who belied their maiden status to produce a scintillating bogey free Sunday in foursomes to overhaul the 54 leaders Clark and Hossler and bag their first win.
So we move on and this week the PGA Tour heads across the border to Mexico for the second playing of the revitalised Mexico Open on the Tour.
The Mexico Open was first held in 1944 and in recent years has been part of the PGA Tour of Latino America. Last year however after the demise of the WGC Mexico the event became part of the full PGA Tour schedule.
The event is hosted by Grupo Salinas who were the hosts for the former WGC event and as was the case last year is to be held at the Vidanta Vallarta resort in Vallarta.
The field lacks strength in depth however it and the betting market is dominated by Jon Rahm who was victorious here last year and now returns to defend his title as the owner of a Green Jacket.
Behind Rahm in the market we then have Tony Finau also at single figures with this duo then followed by Wyndham Clark and Gary Woodland.
The course is a par 71 measuring 7456 yards.
The course features four par fives, three of which are on the back nine, a driveable par four seventh hole measuring just under 300yds and five par 3s
The course is a Greg Norman design so it is worth looking at results at the other two Norman courses used regularly on tour, TPC San Antonio, host of the recent Valero Texas Open and perhaps more significantly El Cameleon host of the Mayakoba also held in Mexico.
The greens are paspalum. Other courses to feature Paspalum greens on Tour are the aforementioned El Cameleon, along with the host courses for the Corales Puntacana and Puerto Rico events. In addition the now defunct CIMB Classic used to feature Paspalum greens as does Kiawah Island the host of the 2021 PGA Championship.
Based on last year length of the tee appears to be an advantage with accuracy off the tee not important as the fairways are wide and the rough not significant.
Wind however can be a factor particularly in the afternoon.
Water is also fully in play on six or seven holes.
Unlike the former WGC Mexico event altitude is not a factor this week as the course is at sea level.
With the event only being in its second year since its resurrection as a PGA Tour event on this course we have very little to go on. Let’s look at the top ten from last year though.
1 Jon Rahm
T2 T Finau, K Kitayama, B Wu, D Riley
T6 C Champ, A Wise, A Smalley, D Lipsky
10 P Rodgers.
So what does this tell us? Well not a lot to be honest as by far the class act in the field Rahm’s win doesn’t really tell us anything. Basically he was the best player by far teeing it up on the week and having made a habit of hoovering up in events where he is an overwhelming short priced jolly it was no surprise he did so here, even if his form was not a patch this time last year as to where it is now.
Looking at his stats for the week he ranked second off the tee and third from tee to green. Runner up Tony Finau meanwhile ranked first from tee to green. Conversely he ranked 60th on the greens while Rahm was only 18th in this department so on the basis of that one edition the long game appears to be more significant than the short game here.
Neither Rahm nor Finau of course are slouches off the tee and with Champ one of the biggest hitters on tour, along with Kitayama, Wise, Smalley and Rodgers, all of whom are longer than average off the tee, also finishing in the top ten, it would certainly seem distance here is of benefit.
In addition Smalley had a few weeks earlier finished runner up on the paspalum at the Corales giving us that link, while runner up Wu cemented the paspalum link further with his third place finish in Puerto Rico a couple of months earlier. Furthermore both of these players have produced some of their other best finishes at coastal events.
Finally on the paspalum front the 11th place home here Nate Lashley is a bit of a specialist at the Corales having won there before while the player who tied 11th place with him, Martin Trainer is a former Puerto Rico champion.
From a winning score point of view Rahm triumphed on 17- under while the four players who finished in a tie for second all posted 16- under.
After several weeks of interruptions on the PGA Tour I am pleased to say we look set for a warm sunny week with temperatures in the mid 80s.
Wind, which will potentially is the courses main defence looks like it could be a factor with gusts of 20mph in the forecast across the week.
As I always say though this could all change!
I have gone with five players this week as follows;
NICOLAI HOJGAARD – 25/1 – 2pts E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 10 - FINISHED 33rd
I will start things off this week with Nicolai Hojgaard.
I sided with the young Danish sensation alongside his fellow countryman last week, Thorbjorn Olesen, in the Zurich pairs event and while there were flashes of brilliance from the youngster over the four days, particularly on the back nine on Saturday, there were too many mistakes between them for them to mount a serious challenge.
As we know though Nicolai is a huge talent with a massive future on the world stage and having won twice on the DP World Tour he has now turned his attention to the PGA Tour earning special temporary membership based on his efforts so far this season, which now gives him an opportunity to earn full status for next season.
Focusing on those efforts so far this campaign and the fact that Nicolai is in this position is predominantly down to his performance at the Corales Puntacana event recently where he finished second, and that immediately gives us a great link to this week through the likes of Smalley and Lashley from last year, while showing he can more than handle the paspalum surfaces.
Longer than average off the tee and having won a low scoring contest on a wind affected course in the Ras Aj Khaimah Championship, while this is Nicolai’s debut in this event you have to think that the track should certainly suit his aggressive play and I am happy to chance him here to show his undoubted class in this company.
PATRICK RODGERS – 28/1 – 1.5pts E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 10th
Next up this week its another chance for a familiar face in these columns Patrick Rodgers.
It’s been a strong 22-23 campaign for Rodgers so far and he currently sits nicely in the Fedex Cup standings in 39th place as the players jockey for a place in that all important top 50.
Looking more closely at the season though and in theory it can be broken down in to two halves a strong Fall campaign, which saw Patrick make seven out of eight cuts, notch a third place in Bermuda and have a chance to win at the RSM, before a more lower key start to 2023, which saw him miss five of his first eight cuts.
Digging a bit deeper though and there are mitigating circumstances for Patrick’s sluggish start to 2023 as an injury, which he wasn’t fully recovered from until the end of January saw his off season work curtailed, while illness then hampered him at Riviera.
Healthy again then the final piece of the jigsaw to rediscover the form of last Fall is that Patrick has returned to the Caddie that he was working with on that strong run at the end of 2023 and the results seem to have clicked straight away with a fifth place at the Valero Texas Open, when he was again in pole position heading in to Sunday to bag that first win, and then a 19th place at the RBC Heritage, really strong results then in two events he had no history in at all. Furthermore Patrick’s long game, including his approach play was really firing over those two weeks as he ranked first off the tee and third from tee to green in Texas while at Hilton Head he ranked ninth in approach play.
On to this week then and with momentum and confidence surely rising the Stanford grad returns to a venue where he performed very nicely last year to finish tenth. The fact that Rodgers performed so well here is not surprising as his distance off the tee should certainly be an asset, while he has consistently shown at venues like Sea Island and Bermuda that he enjoys a coastal test.
Still searching for that elusive first tour win it is understandable that questions will continue to be asked until he bags it, particularly when opportunities like he had in Texas slip by. I’ll continue to take the view though that with each missed opportunity more experience in contention goes in to the bank and I certainly liked the way Patrick talked in his interviews in Texas about the journey he was on to get that first win and this week strikes me as a great opportunity for him to do just that.
BRANDON WU – 50/1 – 1pt e/w – 1/5 odds 1st 8. - FINISHED 3rd
Next up I will take my chances on Brandon Wu.
By and large this week my team is based on players who are longer than average off the tee, however Wu at 144th in driving distance on tour certainly bucks that trend.
If you add Wu’s lack of length off the tee to the fact that his last three solo efforts have seen him miss two cuts and finish 58th and there is nothing that in theory leaps off the page about him for this week with one big exception.
That exception is the fact that Wu seems for whatever reason come to life when he is by the sea particularly when we are looking at a lower scoring track.
This pattern first reared its head when he was seventh in Puerto Rico in 2021 before he had his full card and he then finished third in the same event a year later, a performance, which came on the back of five straight missed cuts to start the year showing he can find his form out of nowhere when conditions suit him. The Californian then followed that performance with a runner up finish here, which was his best finish on tour at the time and he then added an eighth place at the Genesis Scottish Open.
Move on then to 2023 and Brandon was at it again posting another runner up finish by the coast at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am at the beginning of February. That’s five top tens then by the coast for Brandon in less than two full seasons as a PGA Tour member.
A lover then of coastal golf and a one time winner on the Korn Ferry Tour Wu has been knocking on the door of a PGA Tour title over the past 12 months or so and returning to a venue where he posted a closing 63 last year I am happy to chance him to spring back to life here again at the odds.
BRANDON MATTHEWS – 175/1 – 1pt e/w – 1/5 odds 1st 10 - FINISHED MC
Next up this week I can’t resist a speculative play on Brandon Matthews
Matthews arrived on the PGA Tour this season with a reputation of potentially becoming the new holder of the crown of the ‘longest hitter on tour’ and he duly currently sits second on tour in this statistic.
Aside from his big hitting though it must be said that so far Brandon has failed to take the PGA Tour by storm with prior to last week nothing better than a 35th place at the Corales to show for his efforts.
Last week though, while of course only one half of the team, Matthews posted his best finish by far on the PGA Tour to date, a seventh place at the Zurich Classic alongside Sean O’Hair, and with 10 birdies and an eagle on his own ball across the two four ball days he certainly pulled his weight.
Nothing particularly to get excited about from Brandon to date on tour then however we have seen enough from him over the recent years to know that he is prone to runs of poor form but is capable of catching fire when it all clicks and importantly he knows how to win with four professional wins to his name, and, what particularly interests me about this week is where those wins have come.
To expand further and Brandon honed his skills on the PGA Tour of Latino America winning once on this tour initially in 2017 in Argentina and then again in 2020 in the Domincan Republic. In addition Brandon’s win on the Korn Ferry Tour in 2021 came in Colombia while he also posted a runner up finish in Panama the week before the win in Colombia. In addition I am sure Brandon will have fond memories of his time in Mexico having initially earned his Latino America Tour status via the Mexican qualifying event in 2016.
Basically then when Brandon ventures south of the USA he seems to be more than at home and prone to finding some of his beat stuff.
To sum up like many of the longest hitters Matthews is prone to poor weeks as he ‘sprays it off the tee’ however when his confidence rises as hope fully it will have from the strong week in New Orleans, and on the right type of track, which I would certainly see this weeks test as, he can be a serious threat and I am happy to roll the dice at the odds on offer.
CARSON YOUNG – 300/1 – 1pt e/w – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 15th
Finally this week I will round things off by chancing Carson Young at huge each way odds.
Young made a fairly inauspicious start to his career as a full PGA Tour member making only a couple of cuts in his first 11 starts. In March though that all changed when on the back of a good performance by the coast at the Honda he produced a third place finish in Puerto Rico where he was in poll position to win through 36 and 54 holes before stalling perhaps inevitably on Sunday. Still though with last years leaderboard here littered with players who had shown up strongly on the Paspalum either in Puerto Rico or at the Corales that performance flags him up as a live runner here.
Moving on and since that effort in Puerto Rico Carson’s form has held up pretty strongly as he has added 38th place at the Corales and then a 19th in his last solo stroke play effort at the RBC Heritage where he ranked 20th from tee to green and 13th in approach play on the week.
A win south of the border in Panama on the Korn Ferry Tour last season shows us that Carson is not afraid of getting the job done on Sunday when it counts, while that win also gives us a nice rubber stamp to the fact that he appears to enjoy his golf when he heads out of the mainland US.
It would be a huge ask for Young to bag the trophy here of course but as mentioned above he does know how to win and allowing for his recent upturn in form and on correlating tracks, I felt his odds were more than generous and worthy of chancing each way.