With T***p’s Doral course now firmly in the past, Mexico takes centre stage as Chapultepec GC hosts the WGC Mexico Championship for a second year. With any new course comes a lot of second guessing of how it will play and despite it’s narrow, tree-lined nature, Dustin Johnson came out on top of a leaderboard which included some of the longest drivers in the game. There is certainly an element of back to the drawing board about this year’s renewal then but at least we have 4 rounds of competitive golf to help us this year.
The 7330 yard, par 71 course was designed by two Scottish brothers, Willie and Alex Smith from Carnoustie, around the time when Scots were very much the talking point of US golf in the early 1900s. Donald Ross was at the fore front of that and he himself had links to Carnoustie with the first 3 club professionals at his East Lake design all hailing from the Angus town. Indeed the first of those was Alex Smith himself. This suggested to me last year that they probably shared a lot of Ross’ design philosophy and the course does look rather like some of his designs in the US like East Lake and Sedgefield.
So perhaps it was surprising to see so many big hitters on the leaderboard and only two of the top ten ranked inside the top ten for driving accuracy. In turn four of the five longest hitters of the week finished inside the top ten. Now with a WGC event it isn’t always too reliable to focus 100% on driving distance stats as they are often only measured on a couple of holes. But Johnson still managed to hit 72% (5th) of his greens in regulation despite only finding 58% of his fairways (49th).
This is an increasing trend that we are seeing on the PGA Tour, especially at championship courses where you expect there to be penalties for missing the fairway. The big hitters like DJ, Jason Day and Rahm are often letting rip across completely different driving lines in order to get the ball as close to the hole as possible. Their logic being that they can get the ball as close to the flag from 150 yards away in the rough as most of the shorter hitters can from 200 yards in the fairway. I don’t think one tournament is enough to claim that is how Chaplultepec might play going forward, especially as they may well have grown the rough a little this year, but I certainly don’t think it is going to be a course where the more strategic plotters hold any sort of advantage. Last year the greens ran at about 13″ on the stimpmeter and time and time again we see the best way of stopping the ball on slick greens is with as much loft as possible. The bulk of those on the leaderboard all have towering ball flights and that looks worth considering this week. It’s a shame Luke List isn’t in the field as the trajectory of his irons last week was a thing of beauty on Shot Tracker!
All of the top 10 ranked inside the top 33 for putting (75 in the field) with DJ himself ranking 5th. Ability to putt on fast poa annua greens will be crucial this week so those who put up good short stick numbers on the California swing may be worth looking at (Torrey Pines, Pebble Beach and Riviera all have poa annua greens). DJ had previously won at both Pebble and Riviera while his U.S. Open win was on the lightening quick poa annua greens of Oakmont.
Every year at the first WGC of the season despite everyone clambering to over analyse the course (see above!) the most important factor is current form. It’s still very early in the season and not everyone is fully wound up yet. Indeed 4 of the last 5 winners of this were winning for the second time in that calendar year and if we look more closely at last year’s leaderboard, 4 of the top 6 had already won in 2017.
In summary, it appears that while the big hitters may well have an advantage on the shortish course, there is more than one way to play Chapultepec. However it’s not a course where anyone will be expecting to find their game if they have been struggling in recent weeks. Above course suitability and any specific attributes, current form looks to be the main angle in to Mexico this week.
My main fancy in Mexico is a fairly speculative one on first look but yet given he won his last tournament, Joost Luiten perhaps shouldn’t be the outsider that the market makes him at 125/1*. Luiten was last seen getting the better of Ryder Cup player Chris Wood in Oman two weeks ago and unusually he putted very well. It is normally tee-to-green supremacy that we associate with Luiten and it was that part of his game that was on show at Chapultepec last year as he ranked 1st in drving accuracy and 1st in GIR. I’m hoping that his recent improvement with the putter combined with how well suited he was to the course, can bring about a contending performance. One of his main strengths is distance control and with the course being at altitude and featuring lots of elevation changes, committing to a number will be important.
He has already shown he can win in the hotter climates with titles in Oman and Malaysia and with 8 professional titles he is very capable in contention. Obviously this is a big step up but the odds of 125/1 take that into consideration and I like his chances of playing well and possibly grabbing a place.
It looks very likely that one of the top 5 or 6 in the market will win in Mexico this week but good luck trying to decide who might come out on stop and its worth considering that while it’s always nice to find a winner, (especially in a WGC) if we look at odds of around 66/1 and up then we are getting better odds for a place than we are for any of the front 5 in the market to win. So with that in mind I’m plumping for another couple of each way prices.
Jason Dufner was my main tip last year and I think he is worth persisting with here after a respectable 23rd where he just couldn’t make enough birdies and only three players made less bogeys. He is in decent form, 17-36-18-11 and hasn’t missed a cut since July. As ever his long game stats are strong and they look a good fit for the challenge at Chapultepec, he is doing everything well, but nothing outstanding at the moment. He is currently 40th in proximity to the hole and 18th in scoring relative to par from 200 yards while we know he can be deadly with his wedge game. With some players in this odds bracket you question whether they can win in an elite field like this but Dufner is a major winner with another 4 PGA Tour titles. He also had a solid record around the bombers track at Doral and one of the best things from a punting point of view is that he is equally at home on those types of courses as he is on a tighter, tree-lined track. Given we only really have one tournament to look at I think it might pay to side with an adaptable sort like Dufner and he goes in the staking plan at 80/1.
Kevin Chappell finished well down the field last year and I’m not too sure why. It seems like he should relish the test of distance control and accuracy tee-to-green. Chappell has a good record at Riviera and Augusta while his only PGA Tour win to date was at TPC San Antonio which is ball strikers course with a premium on accurate approach play. He has actually started the season a lot better than he normally does and he looks worth a go at a decent each way price. Last year he arrived with his 2017 results reading MC-48-75-MC whereas this year they read 20-8-31-6-21, with the 8th place finish coming on the poa annua greens at Pebble Beach. In two of those events he also ranked 1st in the all-round ranking which tells us his whole game is in good shape and he should be primed for an assault on a championship layout like this.
Joost Luiten – 1pt ew @
125/1 100/1* (the 125/1 was gone before I managed to publish. 1/5 odds 6 places)
Jason Dufner – 0.75pt ew @ 80/1
Kevin Chappell – 0.75pt ew @ 66/1
Weekly pts advised = 5pts