WGC-Mexico Championship (Thurs 21st – Sun 24th February)
Club de Golf Chapultepec, Mexico City
Towering over the neighbouring Mexico City metropolis at some 7,500 feet, Club de Golf Chapultepec sends the finest golfing minds back to school for some remedial learning. More specifically, because conditions at such altitude allow the golf ball to rack up 10% more air miles than at sea level, the WGC-Mexico Championship offers a rare opportunity for pros and their caddies to apply their childhood learning of times-tables and long-division to real-world scenarios. Fortunately, seeing as we’re trading in units of 10, even Dustin Johnson and his brother Austin can reliably make these calculations without too much trouble.
Course characteristics & key player attributes
Of more concern is a curiously meandering layout which takes a little knowing. And the Tour has only visited Chapultepec twice before, so established course form is a little thin on the ground. That said, for all its the idiosyncratic style on show (tight, tree-lined, spongey fairways), these quirks combine to prioritise one familiar attribute: great ball-striking. And seeing as these greens are a combination of poa and bentgrass, very similar to last week’s venue of Riviera, those golfers who are playing back-to-back weeks are likely to enjoy the advantage of being up to speed with the tricky reads of these putting surfaces, which have been slowed (to 11.5 on the Stimp) to accommodate the varied tastes of a truly global field.
So, all things considered, this is best left to the players who hit it the purest and who’ve shown at least a modicum of promising current and course form.
Dustin Johnson 11-1
DJ makes the transition from one to watch last week to headline selection this. The world number-three may have the casual stride of lumbering galoot, but few have trodden more delicately or precisely around this quirky track. The 2017 winner posted a top 10 in his title defence last term and owns a leading sub-68 scoring average at Chapultepec. Having been slowly out of the blocks at Riviera, Johnson rebounded for another top-10 last Sunday, and he can pick this place apart by sometimes choosing discretion as the better part valour off the tee. After all, when DJ stripes a wood or iron for accuracy, it will still fly past most players’ drivers here.
Bubba Watson 40-1
Bubba deserves a second shot this week, even if a lamentable four-putt from 40 feet at the 72nd hole counted him out of both the paying places and a top 10. Watson is another heavy-artillery bomber who can holster the driver on occasion to fairway-finding effect, while his imagination will invariably stand him in good stead around a course which demands shot-shaping.
Others to note:
Sergio Garcia 45-1
Labelled something of a pariah after becoming the first golfer to be disqualified on the European Tour for a breach of the ethical code when it comes to beating up poor, defenceless bunkers and greens, bully boy Sergio arrives on something of a sheepish charm offensive this week. Fortunately, he’s got the cheapest man in the game, Matt Kuchar, to take some of the media heat off his back, and the Spaniard can let his golf do the talking. Garcia has made his career with sound Total Driving stats, coupled to laser-like approaches, so GIR has always been his thing. Even if a dependable putter has not, expect Garcia to find some solace on these familiar, slower surfaces, after an under-the-radar tune-up around Pacific Palisades. He was certainly trending in the right direction earlier in the campaign.
Tyrell Hatton 70-1
If he’s having a bad day at the office, this fiery Englishman is more likely to knock himself about that the surrounding flora, but Hatton has pledged to be a good deal kinder to himself this season. His share of third last year demonstrated his instant liking for the Chapultepec challenge, and with an emphasis on shot-making, this pure ball-striker and deadeye putter can once again thrive at some fancy prices.
Lays of the week
Spieth hasn’t registered a top 10 since the 2018 Open Championship at Carnoustie, and the next big thing is slowly slipping down the rankings into relative obscurity. He’s still riding high on the betting lists, however, as many think he’s on the cusp of returning to the limelight after an opening 66 at Pebble a fortnight back, and then a 64 in round one at Riviera. Trouble is, on both occasions, Spieth unravelled instead of kicking on – hitting a new low last Sunday with his worst ever professional round to par (a 10-over 81) which even included the dreaded snowman (an 8 on the signature 10th hole). Gusty conditions and bobbly greens also blew him off course, so it’s really a question of whether you see the green shoots of recovery, or emerging mental fragility in the 25-year-old. For us, for now, it’s the latter. Spieth can’t find a fairway when it matters, and dropped a staggering 3.607 strokes to the field on the final-round greens. That used to be the Golden Boy’s strength. Forget President Trump building that wall, Spieth’s brick wall of neuroses should be even tougher to scale in Mexico.
The defending champ is not someone who still thrives on successive weeks in action. And with his chronic arthritis under control but hardly improving, it was no surprise to see him announce a reduced schedule for 2019 in order to prolong his never-ending stint as a world-class force. Mickelson has been a hardy perennial of the Top 50 all his career, and has never missed a Ryder or Presidents Cup in 24 straight appearances. For a man known as erratic, that’s consistent. So it would seem something of a scheduling error for him to pop up this week, were it not for his desire to defend. Expect Phil to go from champ to chump, as he goes once too often to the well. Oppose him with confidence in three-balls and match bets.
The FSB blog will return Tuesday 5th March for the Arnold Palmer Invitational