With the West Coast Swing in the rear-view mirror, the TOUR now takes a pit stop in Mexico before the Florida Swing kicks off.
Unlike the last two editions of the WGC-Mexico Championship, the schedule makes a lot of sense this year. Previously, they went Riviera-Honda-Mexico which made zero sense but it's good to see it's been corrected now. Doing it this way will allow golfers to stay in poa annua mode for another week and also prevent a lot of unnecessary travel.
The WGC-Mexico is a no-cut event with a limited field of 72 golfers.
Club de Golf Chapultepec is a par 71 that plays at 7,345 yards on the scorecard. That is drastically different from the adjusted yardage since it's situated about 7,800 feet above sea level. Doing some back-of-napkin math it roughly equates to a 6,700-yard layout. Basically the shortest course on TOUR.
With distance not a major factor you might expect to see accuracy rise to the top here but that hasn't exactly been the case so far. Looking at the top 10 of the last two editions, less than 50% of those top-10 finishers were hitting more fairways than the fields they faced in their five lead-up events. That is right around TOUR average when looking across all events. We shouldn't focus on accuracy, or penalize accuracy, any more than the normal week.
With such a short challenge, where does the defense of the course come from? First, the course is heavily tree-lined so you are having to navigate around them if you get wild off the tee. Second, you have extremely tricky green complexes with poa annua surfaces. The PGA TOUR average in terms of 3-putt percentage usually sits around 3 percent but it's been over 4 percent in both editions played here. Last year we saw big names like Justin Rose, Francesco Molinari, and HaoTong Li have SEVEN three-putts throughout the week. On the flip side, Tyrrell Hatton hasn't swallowed a single three-putt in 8 rounds played here. It's no wonder Dave pointed him out in his Euro-Based Preview of this event. In the quotes section, we'll see some golfers talk about how tricky the greens are.
Lastly, the final defense is the altitude. That elevation may help shrink the course but it also adds an element of guesswork when it comes to approach shots. Golfers will spend a few hours with the TrackMan when they arrive on-site in hopes of honing in those yardages. Distance control is crucial this week. It's hard to know who will adjust most accurately but using a stat like strokes gained approach will probably give you a good list to start with. As Dave pointed out in his Euro-based preview, scrambling has also been a key attribute here. It makes sense that if distance control can be tough then you may find yourself tidying up more often then you'd imagine. There are also a few short par 4s where you can just pound driver and then rely on your scrambling skills.
If we are looking at grass types then it looks awfully similar to Riviera last week as golfers will see kikuyu from tee-to-green and then poa annua on the greens. With kikuyu being common in South Africa and also plenty of big South African events played in altitude, this is really a dream event for any South Africans in the field. We saw that narrative play out last year when Louis Oosthuizen led after day one but he faded as the week went on.
Looking at the scoring environment of the course, we've seen loads of eagles recorded but also a high number of doubles or worse. It's a course where if you keep yourself in position then you're going to have lots of scoring chances. Or you can be like Mickelson in 2017 and find every sprinklerhead and get free relief from trouble.
Sifting through some past quotes over at the Fantasy Golfanac, let's try to break down the course to see how it will play...
Phil Mickelson: "I grew up playing kikuyu and poa annua greens, but the difference for me is I didn’t play Honda last week. I went from L.A. to here, so I had this continuity or consistency. What I love about kikuyu is that you have to fly the ball on the green, around the green, you can’t land it short. That’s the way I like to chip anyways, and I love how the ball sits up in kikuyu so you can get the wedge underneath it."
Dustin Johnson: "So there are some holes where I can get it down there and take advantage of my length, but a lot of times just hitting irons, trying to place it in one side or the other in the fairway."
Justin Rose: "I think it favors a high ball hitter really, whether it be a long hitter. If the ball’s in the air longer, it’s going further. So guys who can launch the ball higher making the most of the available altitude to give them that extra distance."
HaoTong Li: "Actually, yeah, quite fit my eyes. Have lot of 3-iron off the tee and also have a lot of short iron in second shots. I think distance control is going to be important this week."
Rickie Fowler: "The greens are, they’re in good shape. Unfortunately, they’re a bit bumpy, so you see a lot of guys missing putts. It’s hard to make putts on them, but everyone’s playing the greens, the same ones. Yeah, try and leave a close tap-in if you end up missing putts because you don’t want to have a whole lot coming back. "
Overview: Lefty talks about his love of the grasses (which are the same as Riviera) so give a bump to anyone that played well last week. DJ and HaoTong talk about not needing to hit many drivers here. Fowler talks about how tough the greens are. In a separate quote, he actually compared putting to playing Plinko here.
Looking at grass types, geography, course attributes, and past performance, here are a few courses/events that I think could prove to be a good pointer this week:
Silverado Resort and Spa
Pebble Beach Pro-Am
A main theme here is tree-lined courses with tricky greens. The obvious link is Riviera which we just saw last week. Add in the exact some kikuyu-poa combo and it's a perfect match. Firestone and East Lake are/were both used during no-cut events which helps some golfers mentally. The Pebble Pro-Am also features poa greens and is played on short courses.
From the Euro Tour point of view, courses like Crans-Sur-Sierre, Pretoria, Glendower, Gary Player Course, Royal Johannesburg, and Randpark are all played at 3,700 feet above sea level or higher.
Thursday: Sunny with a high of 71 degrees. Winds SSW at 5-to-10 MPH.
Friday: Partly Cloudy with a high of 73 degrees. Winds SW at 4-to-8 MPH.
Weekend: Temps remain comfortable in the low 70s and winds don't look like much of a factor.
This forecast looks amazing after a few weeks of rain out in California. At the moment there isn't any threat of precipitation throughout the week and winds look to hover around 5-to-10 MPH all week. Great golfing weather.
Golfers to Watch
Won on his 2017 Chapultepec debut and returned with a T7 last year. On a recent TaylorMade podcast he said he wasn't initially excited to play in altitude because it tripped him up in the desert but he likes the tree-line nature of this course. If it fits his eye then it's hard to overlook him this week.
Right up there with DJ as the favorite for me this week. I'd consider them 1 and 1A. JT finished T5 here in 2017 and lost in a playoff last year. He was just T38 at the midpoint last year before a 9-under 62 in round three. That's what makes JT so dangerous in no-cut events. He can linger-and-pop with the best of them. Should have plenty of confidence after finishes of THIRD and RUNNER-UP in his last two starts. He's gained 5.7+ strokes on approach in each of his last four starts. He's dialed in.
Was a little surprising to see him make the trip here but it should be a great course fit with poa annua greens and a tree-lined layout that allows him to club down off the tee. He's been driving it well since the Playoffs but his iron play is still the elite part of his game.
The Aussie popped into the mix at Riv last week but ultimately swallowed a T49 finish. We can apply some of the same Riveira quotes to this week, "I’ve grown up on kikuyu so love the grass." He will be making his course debut here but he brings plenty of upside.
The man who wants to know every variable that contributes to his shot. How will he handle the altitude? In theory he should be able to handle it better than most but if there is an unknown variable that he doesn't account for then his mind may just explode. Crazy to think that he was outside the Top 90 in the OWGR at this time last year, so he will be making his debut, as well.
Coming off a win in Phoenix but poa annua has really tripped him up over the last five years or so. Chapultepec was no exception last year when he lost 5.9 strokes putting on the week and he described the process of putting here "like playing Plinko." Perhaps the ability to tap down spike marks could help him a bit or maybe you want to save him for the Florida Swing.
Si Woo Kim UPDATE: Si Woo Kim has decided to pass on the chance to play.
A late addition to the field thanks to his strong finishes over the last two weeks (back-to-back top 5s). Both of those came on poa annua greens which is great news for his growth as a player. In the past most of his top-heavy finishes came on bermudagrass only. Before the AT&T Pro-Am his career best finish on poa was a T18 at the 2016 Farmers. He enters the week with a boatload of confidence and he's always been one to target on shorter courses that put a premium on scrambling. The leaderboard over the last few years has been full of great scramblers.
His recent fast starts are intriguing but when will he be able to piece together four rounds. He's been inside the top 10 after R1 in each of his last three starts but finished T35 or worse in all three of those starts. He had this to say last week, even before the implosion on Sunday, "Ideally for me right now, the more full kind of free flowing full high ball swings, something like next week is actually better for me. And the sawed-off shots you need to hit are just much more difficult because my timing's a bit off, so that makes it certainly a challenge." If you are an optimist then you'll see him pointing toward this week as a better fit for him currently. If you're a pessimist then you'll point out that his timing is still off. Take it how you want but he's really close to putting it all together...yet so far away at the same time.
It seems like ages since we've seen Gary in action but it's only been a few weeks. He's skipped out on the rough weather weeks in California so he's well-rested. If you want an altitude angle then Woodland might be the guy. Two of his three wins have come in events where altitude is considered part of the equation (2013 Reno-Tahoe Open and 2018 Phoenix Open). How has that panned out the last two years? A t38 and T50. Hmmm.
Ranking the Field
1. Dustin Johnson
2. Justin Thomas
3. Sergio Garcia
4. Rory McIlroy
5. Phil Mickelson
6. Jon Rahm
7. Bryson DeChambeau
8. Tommy Fleetwood
9. Tony Finau
10. Tiger Woods
11. Hideki Matsuyama
12. Paul Casey
13. Brooks Koepka
14. Marc Leishman
15. Xander Schauffele
16. Webb Simpson
17. Bubba Watson
18. Patrick Cantlay
19. Jordan Spieth
20. Cameron Smith
21. Gary Woodland
22. Rafa Cabrera Bello
23. Rickie Fowler
24. Louis Oosthuizen
25. Tyrrell Hatton
Check back on Tuesday afternoon for our DFS Dish and Wednesday morning for the Expert Picks.