WGC-Mexico Championship Preview

Dave Tindall
Rotoworld

It’s a 3-for-3 American sweep so far at the WGC-Mexico Championship.

Club de Golf Chapultepec has been host since 2017, with Dustin Johnson winning the inaugural edition and adding a second title with a dominant display 2019 while Phil Mickelson hoisted the silverware in 2018.

But the Euros really like it too, saying it reminds them of tracks used on the European Tour. Indeed, breaking down the 17 players who have made the top five here and over half are Europeans. Add in Euro Tour regular Kiradech Aphibarnrat and it’s 11 of 17 with elite, major-winning Americans (DJ twice, Justin Thomas twice and Mickelson) accounting for five of the other six.  

Mickelson didn’t qualify this time and Tiger Woods hasn’t put it on his schedule but just about everyone else you’d expect to see at a WGC is heading to Mexico this week.

 

Some strokes gained stats from the last three years to peruse.

Leading finishers in 2019

-21 Dustin Johnson (OTT: 7, App: 2, ATG: 51, TTG: 2, Putt: 1)
-16 Rory McIlroy (OTT: 3, App: 13, ATG: 9, TTG: 1, Putt: 16)
-11 Kiradech Aphibarnrat (OTT: 11, App: 12, ATG: 39, TTG: 5, Putt: 23)
-11 Paul Casey (OTT: 13, App: 8, ATG: 63, TTG: 11, Putt: 9)
-11 Ian Poulter (OTT: 51, App: 11, ATG: 29, TTG: 20, Putt: 3)

Leading finishers in 2018

-16 Phil Mickelson (OTT: 19, App: 12, ATG: 22, TTG: 12, Putt: 3)
-16 Justin Thomas (OTT: 3, App: 44, ATG: 3, TTG: 3, Putt: 6)
-15 Rafa Cabrera Bello (OTT: 41, App: 14, ATG: 33, TTG: 27, Putt: 1)
-15 Tyrrell Hatton (OTT: 7, App: 23, ATG: 9, TTG: 2, Putt: 11)
-13 Kiradech Aphibarnrat (OTT: 21, App: 17, ATG: 1, TTG: 1, Putt: 23)
-13 Brian Harman (OTT: 40, App: 21, ATG: 37, TTG: 29, Putt: 2)

Leading finishers in 2017

-14 Dustin Johnson (OTT: 27, App: 1, ATG: 9, TTG: 1, Putt: 21)
-13 Tommy Fleetwood (OTT: 14, App: 5, ATG: 7, TTG: 2, Putt: 27)
-12 Ross Fisher (OTT: 47, App: 7, ATG: 21, TTG: 13, Putt: 4)
-12 Jon Rahm (OTT: 4, App: 24, ATG: 54, TTG: 6, Putt: 8)
-11 Thomas Pieters (OTT: 34, App: 3, ATG: 27, TTG: 5, Putt: 14)
-11 Justin Thomas (OTT: 32, App: 16, ATG: 37, TTG: 19, Putt: 5)

Notes: Want some averages for all the top five finishers over the last three years?

OTT (Off The Tee): 20.82
App (Approach): 13.70
ATG (Around The Green): 26.53
TTG (Tee To Green): 9.35
Putt (Putting): 10.41

DJ was in the top two for Tee To Green in both his wins while all three runners-up have finished in the top three in that same category.

The Course

Club de Golf Chapultepec in Mexico City opened in 1928 and is a par 71 measuring in at 7,345 yards. It’s tree-lined fairways, kikuyu and poa/bent greens establish a potential link with Riviera and the reality plays out nicely. DJ and Mickelson are winners at both courses while there’s plenty of other correlating evidence. In 2017, DJ and Thomas Pieters finished 1-2 at Riviera before coming to Chapultepec and taking first and fourth. The three par 5s come at 6 (626 yards), 11 (622 yards) and 15 (575 yards). That seems like a lot of yardage but let’s not forget we’re at altitude in Mexico City so the ball flies far. Johnson played those combined 12 par 5s (3 each day) in 10-under during his first win.

 

Weather

It's sunshine all the way with temperatures in the mid-to-early 80s all week although perhaps a tad cooler on Friday. Winds are gentle, especially on the weekend.

 

Quotes

Justin Thomas (2019): “It's a cool little golf course. It's all right in front of you, there's nothing tricky to it. You can play the course a lot of different ways, I feel like. Off the tee you can be aggressive and take some of the doglegs or kind of hit it to where most of the people hit it and then go from there."

Tiger Woods (2019): “It was a lot tighter than I had thought. The ball was traveling obviously a long way. Some of our numbers on the range were a bit surprising, even on the golf course, how far it was going. The most interesting thing is the ball just doesn't curve up here at altitude, there's just not enough resistance. Shots that I thought I shaped just didn't have any shape to it."

Tommy Fleetwood (2018): “It is a very European layout. Last year it just reminded us of playing in Italy or some of the courses that we play, a bit of an old-school golf course. It's still different, it's still a long way above sea level and the greens are a bit slopy than what we're used to. So there are still differences that we don't get but just the general feel of when you're walking down the fairways and seeing the tee shots, it's tree lined, that is quite a European feel to it.”

Justin Rose (2018): “It's interesting, it's a fun golf course. Obviously with the altitude, there's also those calculations you're trying to figure out, how far is the ball going and there's not just the standard calculations, it's not just 10 percent across the board. It seems to change with different clubs.”

Jon Rahm (2018): “The more I play this golf course, the more I like it.”

Sergio Garcia (2018): “It's the kind of golf course I like. You know, Valderrama is my favorite golf course, small greens. Sawgrass, one of my favorite golf courses, small greens. So I do like these kind of courses better.”

Tiger’s point about the ball not curving is interesting. Bubba Watson almost has to cut and curl every shot so it’s no great surprise to see he has a modest record of 26-9-38.

 

The Leading Contenders

Rory McIlroy

Rory disappointed in Sunday’s final round (73) at Riviera but an 18-footer for birdie at the last secured T5 and took his streak of top fives to five (one of those a win in the most recent WGC, the HSBC in China). He’s had two looks at Chapultepec, finishing T7 on debut in 2017 and finishing runner-up – by five shots admittedly – to Johnson last year. Rory shot a 63 in round one 12 months ago. Hard to see him not being in the hunt again.

Dustin Johnson

Two wins in three starts at the course and last year he was five clear of second and ten in front of third. Six of his 12 rounds have been 66 or lower. DJ loves this place and only Tiger with an absurd 18 can beat Johnson’s tally of six WGC wins (next best has three). Not at his sparkling best yet in 2020 but he’s had three top tens in four worldwide starts and the underlying numbers look good.

Jon Rahm

As noted above, the Spaniard is a big fan of the course although since his impressive third place on debut in 2017, he’s had to settle for T20 in 2018 and a disappointing T45 last year. Rahm rarely has a bad week these days and his 2020 form reads 10-2-9-17. Not at his best from tee-to-green at Riviera but the putter was hot so he should enjoy these similar greens.

Justin Thomas

Thomas has had a strange feast-or-famine start to the decade, winning the Sentry Tournament of Champions, missing the cut at the windy Sony Open, finishing fast to take third in Phoenix and bombing out at halfway at Riviera where nothing worked well. By contrast, his course form here shows high-class consistency – 5-2-9. In that run of three straight top 10s, he’s twice shot 62.

Webb Simpson

Simpson didn’t peg it up at Riviera so this is his first start since he claimed victory at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Prior to that he was third at the Sony Open and, in his final start of 2019, runner-up at the RSM Classic so form of 1-3-2 makes him one of the very hottest players in the field. Course form? A different type of consistency. He’s started poorly in both events, finishing T37 in 2018 and T39 last year.

Adam Scott

A superb two-shot winner at Riviera on Sunday, a victory made even more impressive by it being the Aussie’s first start of the season after an eight-week break. The victory in the Genesis Invitational took him to 7th in the world rankings, the first time he’s been in the top ten since June 2017. That was the year he played this event for the only time, Scott finishing down in T45 but giving the impression that he worked something out on the weekend (73-76-68-68). Struck it great last week, as he's been doing again for some time.

Xander Schauffele

A runner-up at the last WGC (HSBC Champions, where he was defending), Schauffele has started 2020 with 2-MC-16-23. The long game looks in fine shape but the putter hasn’t been behaving which is a negative here. He’s been solid in his two starts at Chapultepec, with T18 and T14. One poor round cost him each time but it’s a track he can score well on.

Hideki Matsuyama

He can’t quite get the win but the Japanese star has racked up seven top 20s in nine starts on the PGA TOUR this season, finishing second (ZOZO), third (CJ CUP) and tied fifth in last week’s Genesis Invitational. He ranked 1st for SG: Tee To Green at Riviera (12.436) so the missing link is the putter (63rd of the 68 who made the Genesis cut). Has posted T25 (2017) and T19 (2019) in two starts at Chapultepec.

Tommy Fleetwood

The Englishman immediately liked what he saw when ranked a big outsider in the inaugural WGC-Mexico in 2017 and made a mockery of his 200/1 odds (yes, that shows how far he’s come since then) to finish runner-up. He’s backed it up with T14 and T19. Fleetwood ended 2019 with a win (Nedbank) and a second (DP World Tour Championship) and has been fast out of the blocks in 2020 with another second place in Abu Dhabi and T11 in Dubai (closing 75). Should be refreshed and raring to go again.

Bryson DeChambeau

The latest experiment (bulking up and hitting it further) looks to be showing some early results as he was T8 in the European Tour’s Dubai Desert Classic and T5 at Riviera (3rd OTT, 2nd TTG) on Sunday (T52 in Phoenix inbetween). That’s the good news. The bad is that he could only manage T56 on his WGC-Mexico debut 12 months ago, although he did at least show some progression (75-73-73-69).

Course horse/Neat fit

Paul Casey

Closed with a pair of 65s to finish third last year and that built on T12 in 2018 and T16 in 2017. If only he could start faster (71, 73 and 74 are his three openers). Not at his best on the West Coast (37-64-21-19) but game not too far away (12th TTG at Riviera). Just needs that putter to get warm.

Sergio Garcia

Sergio is a big fan of Chapultepec and has improved his finish each year – 12-7-6. Eight of his 12 rounds have been in the 60s and he’s never shot over par. After a run of 8-23-6 on the Desert Swing, he was a modest T37 at Riviera but this could be where he kicks on again.

Tyrrell Hatton

Another of the well-known Europeans to have taken to Chapultepec. T10 on debut, third in 2018 and T19 last year. The obvious concern is that this is his first start of 2020 following wrist surgery.

Rafa Cabrera Bello

A fourth European for this section. RCB was T38 on debut but T3 in 2018 with four rounds in the 60s and last year’s T19 would have been much better but for a slow start (76-69-66-68). Last week’s T17 at Riviera bodes well for another good week in Mexico.

Cameron Smith

Had his first look at Chapultepec last year and finished in a tie for sixth so worked things out quickly. Won the Sony Open last month but has dipped since (64-MC-MC)

 

Trending

Chez Reavie

Very cold start to 2020 with a trio of MCs but changed the script with T25 at Pebble and added T10 at Riviera on Sunday, ranking 1st for SG: Approach. Course form not good though: 52-65.

Matt Kuchar

Didn’t have his best stuff towards the end of 2019 but won in Singapore in January, added T16 in Phoenix and was runner-up at Riviera (easily his best finish there) and ranked 2nd for SG: Putting. Course form of 20-58-50 although note that he was second at halfway last year.

Ryan Fox

Got better each week on the Desert Swing (MC Abu Dhabi, T30 Dubai, T27 Saudi) and then finished runner-up in his home Vic Open after a hot final round. Shot 72-72-75-76 for 67th here last year but will know more this time.

Byeong Hun An

Sluggish start to 2020 but then really found his feet at the Phoenix Open when T9 (3rd SG: Tee To Green) last time out. Only T45 and T48 here but shot a Saturday 64 last year and a Friday 66 on debut in 2017.

Carlos Ortiz

The local hero looks to have found some nice form again ahead of his tournament debut. T25 in Phoenix and T26 at Riviera. T3 at the Mayakoba in November shows he can thrive in front of expectant home fans.

 

Sleeper Picks

Kevin Kisner

Down the betting but he has solid course form of 11-29-26 and was fourth at the Sony Open last month.

Kurt Kitayama

Has experienced a variety of different conditions on his travels in Europe and last two starts show T18 at Pebble and T6 in Dubai.

Graeme McDowell

Fourth at Sony and winner of the European Tour’s Saudi International at the start of February. Course debut but he’s a previous winner in Mexico at the Mayakoba.

Lee Westwood

Returned from Christmas break to win the prestigious Abu Dhabi Championship (50-MC since). Has played well for 54 holes in both his starts here before fading on Sunday (16th to 33rd and 5th to 28th).

Bernd Wiesberger

Almost won last season’s Race to Dubai and started 2020 with T8 in Abu Dhabi. Two MCs since while he closed with 66 for T30 here in 2018 (also T45 in 2017).

Christiaan Bezuidenhout

A winner at Valderrama and third at Wentworth, he excels on tree-lined tracks. Runner-up in Dubai and returned home last week to win the Sunshine Tour’s Dimension Data Pro-Am. Debut.

Matthias Schwab

Just the sort of high-level European Tour former who might be getting written off too easily here. Schwab hasn’t shown his very best in 2020 but was fourth at November's WGC-HSBC to show he can thrive at this level.

Lucas Herbert

Another first-timer but the Aussie has made a hot start to 2020 with a victory at the Dubai Desert Classic followed by T27 in Saudi and T12 at his home Vic Open.

 

Rankings

1/ Dustin Johnson
2/ Rory McIlroy
3/ Jon Rahm
4/ Justin Thomas
5/ Tommy Fleetwood
6/ Webb Simpson
7/ Adam Scott
8/ Xander Schauffele
9/ Hideki Matsuyama
10/ Louis Oosthuizen
11/ Bryson DeChambeau
12/ Marc Leishman
13/ Sergio Garcia
14/ Paul Casey
15/ Matt Kuchar
16/ Collin Morikawa
17/ Patrick Reed
18/ Shane Lowry
19/ Gary Woodland
20/ Matthew Fitzpatrick

What to Read Next