For the second straight year, the opening WGC event of the calendar year takes place in Mexico.
There was plenty of head-scratching by gamers last year when trying to work out who might play well at Club de Golf Chapultepec.
In the end, it played to keep it simple as newly-crowned World No. 1 Dustin Johnson took the title. Tommy Fleetwood (Abu Dhabi) and Jon Rahm (Torrey Pines) had also already chalked up a big win earlier that season so current form seemed to count for plenty.
It’s a limited 65-man field and this preview will focus on those available for the official European Tour fantasy game. Yes, every single one of them and there’s a few surprise American names in there!
Firstly, a look back at last year when this venue was used for the first time at this level.
Leading finishers in 2017
-14 Dustin Johnson (DD: 4, DA: 59, GIR: 5, Scr: 14, PA: 5, AA: 3)
-13 Tommy Fleetwood (DD: 21, DA: 5, GIR: 5, Scr: 2, PA: 30, AA: 1)
-12 Ross Fisher (DD: 25, DA: 12, GIR: 2, Scr: 21, PA: 8, AA: 2)
-12 Jon Rahm (DD: 2, DA: 65, GIR: 46, Scr: 1, PA: 28, AA: 14)
-11 Thomas Pieters (DD: 47, DA: 25, GIR: 21, Scr: 9, PA: 11, AA: 6)
-11 Justin Thomas (DD: 30, DA: 68, GIR: 38, Scr: 67, PA: 1, AA: 49)
Notes: There was no magic formula last year although the top three listed were all in the top five for greens in regulation. Rahm (scrambling) and Thomas (putting) sparkled in other areas. Beyond those stats, look at all the big hitters in there!
The 7,330-yard Club de Golf Chapultepec is located in the altitude of Mexico City. It opened in 1928. The tree-lined fairways are kikuyu and the greens a mix of Poa annua and bentgrass so that immediately brings Riviera to mind as it has the same traits. A useful link? Absolutely. Check the 2017 Riviera leaderboard and Johnson was the winner and Pieters runner-up. The top five at Riviera two weeks ago? Bubba, Tony Finau, Kevin Na, Patrick Cantlay and Scott Stallings. The top Europeans (on an admittedly US-dominated leaderboard) who are playing in Mexico this week? Alex Noren (T16) and Rafa Cabrera-Bello (T26).
Very pleasant sunny conditions are forecast for all four tournament days with temperatures locked in around 80 degrees. Winds are modest.
The Leading Contenders
Rahm teed off last year as a World No. 37 with immense promise. He returns as the No. 2 after a relentless charge up the rankings which included finishing runner-up to DJ here 12 months ago. The Spaniard actually held the lead on the back nine before a couple of late bogeys cost him but it was still another hugely eye-catching display. A winner at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January, he’s just cooled off a little with a run of 29-11-26 in West Coast events in which he was 1-16-5 last year.
Despite winning in Abu Dhabi and boasting lots of excellent form at the end of 2016, Fleetwood was a big outsider here last year, some bookies quoting him at 200/1. But, riding the wave of confidence, the Englishman had a great time and rounded off a golden week by draining a 40-footer at the last to finish solo second. Since then he’s been crowned European No. 1, challenged for the U.S. Open, defended in Abu Dhabi and gone mighty close to a first American win in last week’s Honda Classic. Now a career-high 11th in the world, just one spot behind Rory McIlroy (not playing this week).
He’ll be attempting back-to-back WGC wins after landing the HSBC Champions in China back in November. That sparked a hot run of three wins in six events for the Englishman and, after a break, he’s come back with T22 in Abu Dhabi and T8 at Torrey Pines so is starting his slow build towards the Masters nicely. The World No. 5 couldn’t get much going here last year when shooting 70-72-71-71 to finish T38 but expect a real improvement on that.
The hottest European on the PGA Tour right now after backing up his play-off loss at Torrey Pines with a solo third spot at the Honda Classic. The Swede was left to rue a second-round 75 but for the other three days he showed just why he’s been a multiple winner in Europe over the last couple of seasons. Down in T55 on his course debut last year but a closing 69 left a good taste and his current play and confidence makes him a danger anywhere.
This should be a good track for Sergio (tree-lined, rewards good iron play) and he did pretty nicely last year when carding 68-71-68-70 for tied 12th (9th for GIR). He kicked 2018 off with a win on the Asian Tour’s Singapore Open but he hasn’t been able to go through the gears in his only two starts since – T32 when defending in Dubai and T33 at the Honda Classic. Augusta on his mind?
Now available for the official European Tour fantasy game after taking up his ET membership again, Casey wants a Ryder Cup spot and this is a great chance to bank some big points. The Englishman got better each day here last year when shooting 74-71-67-66 for T16 and he’s already bagged two top 10s (Abu Dhabi, Pebble Beach) in just three starts in 2018. The win still eludes him but his high-class consistency is appealing to fantasy managers.
Hatton was in the middle of a golden spell last year when a T10 here was the Mexican filling sandwiched between Florida T4s at the Honda and Bay Hill. He missed the cut at PGA National last week but prior to that was third in Abu Dhabi (3rd GIR) and let’s remember that he’s the World No. 16.
After finishing runner-up at Riviera two starts earlier, Pieters showed that was no fluke by taking T4 here in Mexico. Another top four on his Masters debut shortly after confirmed the belief that the big-hitting Belgian is someone to take very seriously in elite events and he backed that up with another T4 in the WGC event at Firestone in the summer. This year? T5 in Abu Dhabi and T13 at the Honda Classic on Sunday suggest he’s ready for another strong week.
The Englishman shot a closing 65 to take T3 here last year and made this interesting revelation about his liking for the course. “I don't feel like there's many drivers. I hit the ball really high so I'm gaining quite a lot in the altitude. Sometimes for us it's 20, if not 22 percent. So holes like 11 off that left-hand tee I'll hit 3-iron off the tee, but I can still get up with a 3-wood.” Fisher played lots of great golf in 2017 (6th spot on Race to Dubai was highest finish since 2009) and it’s continued into 2018 with a second place in Abu Dhabi two starts ago.
Another European to crack the top 20 at this venue last year. Others made more headlines but Fitzpatrick certainly had plenty to be pleased with after carding 71-67-72-68 for T16. He’s also cashed a big early cheque in 2018 after taking third place in the Abu Dhabi Championship and MC in Dubai (his only other start this season) came despite a second-round 67 and ended a run of 10 consecutive worldwide top 20s.
That one slipped me by. Last year’s Tour Championship winner is available for the official European Tour fantasy game and could be a very worthy addition. Far from falling back down the world rankings following his surprise exploits in 2017, he’s still on the rise and heads to Mexico as the World No. 22 after T17 in Phoenix and T9 at Riviera in his latest two events. Didn’t play here last year.
The Next Rung
The South African has won on the European Tour in Joburg, another city way above sea level, so knows how to deal with funky distances. He shot 69-68 over the middle two rounds at Chapultepec last year but bookend 73s left him in T32. A runner-up in his home South African Open in January, he’s 4-for-4 since then with T15 in Abu Dhabi and T20 at Pebble Beach.
Kooch joined the European Tour as an affiliate member in January – “it’s been a passion of mine to explore and see the world” – and has already taken T32 in Abu Dhabi. Tied fifth in Phoenix after that, last year’s runner-up was T26 at Riviera a couple of weeks ago and took T20 on this course last year after returning rounds of 68-71-67-73.
World No. 20 RCB has shown plenty of consistency on the PGA Tour in recent weeks with T26 at both Pebble Beach and Riviera followed by T29 at the Honda Classic (4th GIR). Prior to his run of PGA Tour starts, the Spaniard was T6 in Dubai. He enjoys the sun on his back and can speak his native tongue this week although he didn’t have his best stuff when finishing in the middle of the pack here last year (T38).
Yep, he’s got a European Tour card and has already played it this season when T29 in Dubai. Perez followed that up with T35 at Pebble and T41 at Riviera so he’s just quietened down a little after October’s hot play which produced a win at the CIMB Classic and a top five in the CJ Cup. The American opened with a 68 here last year before falling away to finish T38 but he does have some very happy memories of Mexico having landed the 2016 OHL Classic there.
This man needs taking very seriously. The numbers tell the story as he’s now pieced together 10 top 20s in his last 12 starts and that includes T11 at last week’s Honda Classic here his weekend scores of 67-69 were hugely impressive in the testing conditions. Top six in both Dubai and Malaysia before heading to the PGA Tour, Frittelli could make a big impact on his course debut.
He’s held a European Tour card for a couple of seasons and has reward gamers who remembered so when these events come round. The U.S. Ryder Cup star had a poor week here last year when finishing outside the top 60 and he’s hardly given himself a boost with missed cuts at Pebble Beach and Honda Classic in his last two outings. T17 in Phoenix before that.
As with Grace, the Kikuyu grass will be familiar to the South African although he took a while to get the hang of the course last year, returning three over-par scores before handing in a 68 on Sunday. Oosthuizen looked set to make a Sunday challenge at the Honda but slipped from T8 after 54 holes to T24 at the finish. There were some promising signs though from the sweet swinger.
The 2011 Masters champ has made just two starts in 2018 – T15 in his home SA Open and T68 at Riviera so he’s still not hitting the heights of the past. He does enjoy courses like this and last year’s T38 was compromised by a fourth-round 75. Before that Sunday slide he’s authored laps of 71-68-70 to be T18 with 18 to play.
The Italian is another of the Euros playing Stateside in the early months of the season but he hasn’t made the same impact as others, finishing T45 at Torrey Pines, T40 in Phoenix and missing the cut at the Genesis Open although he did shoot a second-round 69 at Riviera. Molinari closed with a 66 for T20 at this venue last year and any course which rewards good iron play is always up his street.
The last two winners of the Dubai Desert Classic (Danny Willett and Sergio Garcia) have gone on to win the Masters that same season so get ready for the first Chinese winner at Augusta. Well, maybe that’s too simplistic but Li deserves plenty of respect anywhere right now. Let’s not forget, he was a fast-finishing third in last summer’s Open Championship and has an excellent temperament. T53 at Riviera on his last start although he did open 71-71-69.
It paid to play the current form angle last year in which case Luiten could be an interesting contender this week after winning the European Tour’s Oman Open on his latest start. Also T11 at the Maybank prior to that, the Dutchman’s appeal is increased by his top 25 at this venue 12 months ago. Notably, he ranked 1st for GIR that week so if his putter behaves (it certainly did in Oman when he was 1st for Putting Average) we have a very interesting outsider on our hands.
Dunne started 2018 with a top 20 in Abu Dhabi but didn’t make the cut in Dubai and also failed to cash at Pebble Beach. It’s his course debut so, despite landing his first European Tour win at October’s British Masters, he doesn’t leap off the page compared to some of the other Euro contenders.
The Austrian was blown off course in Florida last week when shooting 75-81 and that followed a missed cut in the Maybank Championship in Malaysia. He does have the benefit of course experience but was never a factor in 2017 when failing to break 70 and settling for T45.
Given that his last two European Tour wins have come in matchplay formats, it’s probably best to keep him up your sleeve until the WGC-Dell Match Play next month. Or Bay Hill the week before where he’s finished T6 in both starts. The Thai battled away for four rounds at the Honda Classic last week but didn’t make the top 50. It’s his course debut.
Campillo gets his place due to being ranked 5th on this season’s Race to Dubai thanks to T4 (Oman Open) and solo second (Maybank Championship) on his last two starts and top 15s in South Africa and Abu Dhabi. It represents the most consistent spell of his career so, for his tournament debut, he could be a dark horse if current form is king again.
Playing on the PGA Tour this year. 3-for-6 so far with T17 in CareerBuilder and T26 at Riviera before MC in Honda. First start here but 18th on 2017 Race to Dubai and enjoys new experiences.
Making waves on the European Tour with recent wins in Joburg (altitude) and Malaysia although MCs in last two starts temper expectations for this big step up in class.
Jumped over 200 spots up world rankings to 80th after win in SA Open backed up by top fives in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. First start in a WGC event.
In the world’s top 50 so don’t just skim over him. T61 in this event last year but a closing 69 was notable and that first look will help his bid this time.
World No. 54 from Japan. T11 in Perth last time and has been in red-hot form on home Tour over last 12 months.
Will take encouragement that big hitters have done well here although no experience at this level. T22 in Dubai and fourth in home Dimension Data Pro-Am on last start.
European Tour regular, the American was T6 in Dubai at the end of January. Played this event last year but finished near back of the field.
Ended long wait for first Euro Tour success when winning in Hong Kong in November. Three missed cuts out of four in 2018 so form has dipped.
Rising Asian Tour star was T19 in Joburg but T61 in CIMB Classic and T67 in CJ Cup are probably a fair reflection of what to expect.
If they stage another WGC in Australia, give him a look. Hard to argue much of a case for him here though.
Another Aussie who would need home advantage to be a factor. Poor form recently.
Second year here. T67 last time and form has taken a nosedive with four straight MCs.
Who’s On The Team?
It’s a key week given the purse on offer but a tricky one too.
There’s a plethora of players vying for a place in the six-man line-up for the official European Tour fantasy game and the addition of some top Americans, who are now eligible, adds to the difficulty for gamers.
One To Swerve
Tyrrell Hatton’s T10 last year may have been based on the fact he was in fantastic form rather than loved the course. I prefer others from the leading contenders.