Our golf scribe previews the co-sanctioned WGC Mexico Championship, which gets underway this Thursday.
It’s always nice to have a little bit of political intrigue to supplement the drama of a major golfing event. It gives proceedings a certain Bond-esque feeling. I am of course referring to the fact that this year’s event has seen a change of location to Mexico, with Trump Doral abandoned in the wake of his colourful immigration comments last year. You have to hand it to the WGC, they could have just rearranged the event to take place anywhere in the states. But they decided to go one better and relocate the tournament to Mexico City, leaving no doubts as to their specific views on Trump’s regressive rhetoric.
As such, I’m flying a little blind this week. The course lies at approximately 8000 feet above sea level, leaving many observers to speculate that driving distance will be virtually nullified: which is a stark contrast to the Blue Monster at Doral. I have my doubts about that assessment, however. Two of the three par 5’s are over 600 yards in length, while there are a selection of drivable par 4’s. The narrow, tree-lined fairways will require some accuracy off the tee, but I still expect the huge hitters to have a say in what should be a birdie-fest this week. The weather is expected to be clear while no strong wind is forecast for the weekend.
Jason Day had to pull out this week, whilst otherwise, it’s a veritable smorgasbord of the world’s golfing elite lining up in Mexico this week. Rory returns to action and will be hoping to reenergize his game ahead of the Masters in April. Dustin Johnson will be looking to consolidate his number one position while the likes of Jordan Spieth and Henrik Stenson make this weekend’s tournament an exceedingly tantalising prospect.
WGC Mexico Championship | Thursday 2 March - Sunday 5 March | Club de Golf Chapultepec, Mexico City
2016: Adam Scott (-12) | 2015: Dustin Johnson (-9) | 2014: Patrick Reed (-4) | 2013: Tiger Woods (-19) | 2012: Justin Rose (-16)
To Win Outright:
Dustin Johnson 13/2 | Jordan Spieth 8/1 | Rory McIlroy 11/1 | Hideki Matsuyama 12/1 | Henrik Stenson 14/1
Jon Rahm - To Win 28/1 & To Place 6/1
Towards the top end of the market, it almost seems impossible to pick a likely winner this week. The combination of a new course and tremendous field have left me slightly flummoxed. However, at 28/1 to win, the big hitting Spaniard seems to offer extremely decent value, especially considering he has already won on tour this year. He beat an excellent field at Torrey Pines, which also features the dual Poa Aunna/Bentgrass Greens. His tie for 5th at tree-lined Congressional last season adds to my certainty that his name will be near the top of the leaderboard. Perhaps the place markets will be a better option, though.
Louis Oosthuizen - To Win 50/1 & To Place 11/1
This week just looks right up Louis’ alley. The Kikuyu fairways should pose no problem to the South African, while his straight hitting off the tee could put him in prime place to accumulate birdies in the week. He finished 8th in Driving Accuracy at the Honda last week, with encouraging final rounds of 68 and 69. He also finished 11th in Driving Accuracy when finishing 3rd at the Phoenix Open. He has shown his efficacy at tree-lined venues before. He has won the Africa Open at East London twice and has also finished runner up at the Masters. He seems to be in a good place with his game and this venue change suits him to the bone.
Tommy Fleetwood - To Win 150/1 & To Place 33/1
This one confounds me. The Southport man has been resurgent of late, and that win at the Abu Dhabi HSBC was phenomenal. He beat out the likes of Dustin Johnson and Henrik Stenson en route to that crown. He understandably went through a lull in the following two weeks but returned to excellent form in a tie for 12th finish at the Maybank - his last start. The last four cuts that Fleetwood has made, he has led the field in ball-striking. It’s also worth noting that he has two top ten’s at the Omega European Masters at Crans Montana, a course that is perhaps the closest in altitude to this one on the European Tour.
The Man to Beat
Henrik Stenson - To Win 14/1 & To Place 3/1
This may be his first start in some time - it’s actually his first PGA Tour event of the year - but never doubt the ruthless efficiency that Stenson brings. He finished 2nd at the Dubai Desert Classic three weeks ago, and tied for 8th at the Abu Dhabi Championship in January. The metronomic Swede should be raring to go following a good layoff, and it’s his innate ability to win all around the world that draws me to him this week. His 2nd place finish at Rio in the Olympics is an indication of this. Had he won in Rio, he would have won on all six of the continents that he has played tournament golf on, joining an elite group including Gary Player and Bernhard Langer to achieve that feat.