The venue for this week’s WGC-Mexico is marked at 7,330 yards, but will play significantly less than that due to the high altitude at which the course is located. It’s hard to make this exact calculation, but the true yardage will be well under 7,000 yards. That tends to even the field in terms of distance, and the tree-lined fairways further skew this course towards short, accurate hitters. DJ overpowered this course last year, but he was the exception to the rule. The GC at Chapultepec features kikuyu fairways and rough – which we’ve seen recently at Torrey Pines and Riviera – and poa annua greens. We want to look at some putting splits, but pay extra attention to players who performed well at those tracks on the California swing. Digging further into the scorecard here, I noticed that the par-5s are very long, which again may mitigate the advantage of the bombers. Par-4 scoring is going to be critical this week, since we have 11 par-4s this week, some of which are extremely short. It should be a birdie fest, and I think the winner will be the player who wins par-4 scoring for the week.
In terms of stats I feel are important, birdie or better percentage, SG:Tee-to-Green, SG:Approach, and par-4 scoring seem to be good targets. Correlating courses that I’ll take a small look at this week are Riviera and Torrey Pines (due to similar grass types), TPC Kuala Lumpur (CIMB Classic), and three European Tour venues: Crans Sur Sierre (Omega European Masters – this is at a very high altitude, as well), Wentworth (BMW PGA Championship), and Woburn (British Masters rotation).
This week’s field is headlined Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Rickie Fowler, and a ton of the top European Tour players. If I had to pick one of these guys to win this week, it would be Jon Rahm.
Strokes Gained Approach (SG:APP): Ball-striking, especially with irons, is going to be a major key for players this week. Chapultapec is way above sea level, so distance control becomes exceptionally difficult. Last year’s leaderboard was littered with elite ball-strikers, and I expect more of the same. In terms of recent play, the players to target in strokes gained approach are Justin Thomas, Rafa Cabrera-Bello, Alex Noren, Russell Henley, Phil Mickelson, and Paul Casey.
Strokes Gained Off-the-Tee (SG:OTT): Every week, off-the-tee play is a main target. Guys who can hit it long and straight have a huge advantage over the rest of the field. It makes courses shorter, and allows them to hit approach shots from shorter distances, setting up birdies. Even though this course is narrow, we saw DJ, Rahm, and Pieters atop last year’s leaderboard. The best off-the-tee players are Jon Rahm, .Dustin Johnson, Paul Casey, Gary Woodland, Tommy Fleetwood, Kevin Chappell, and Bubba Watson.
Birdie or Better % (BoB%): There are really not many weeks where we aren’t going to target birdie or better percentage, because that’s what fantasy golf scoring is all about. This event should lend itself to higher scores, so players who can steal the most points for birdies will be ahead of the pack. The best players in this field in recent birdie or better percentage are Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Paul Casey, Phil Mickelson, Brendan Steele, and Gary Woodland.
Par-4 Scoring (P4): Chapultapec plays as a par-70, meaning we don’t have the usual par-5 barrage these guys typically see. The ones we do have are very long, so the majority of scoring will be on par-4s. That means par-4 scoring will have an added emphasis, especially longer par-4 scoring average. Some of the best par-4 scorers in this field are Kevin Chappell, Jon Rahm, Tony Finau, Justin Thomas, Phil Mickelson, Chez Reavie, and Jordan Spieth.
1. Dustin Johnson – World Ranking: #1
People want to overblow the “DJ is struggling” narrative, but it’s completely untrue. After blowing a Sunday lead in Hong Kong, DJ won the Tournament of Champions, finished 2nd at Pebble Beach, and contended until Sunday afternoon at Riviera. He’s the defending champion here, so clearly he loves the course. He has the ability to overpower any golf course, and he’s dramatically improved his iron and wedge play the past year. He’s the man to beat.
2. Jon Rahm – World Ranking: #11
I’m on a run of picking winners, so let’s keep it rolling with Jon Rahm this week. I do think people will choose DJ and Fleetwood over Rahm, so his ownership should stay around 15%. He finished 3rd here last year, and had every opportunity to win. He scrambled really well, and we all know he’s a vastly improved player since last year. Rahm recently won the CareerBuilder Challenge, but since he’s had a couple weeks off, I think people will forget just how well he was playing. As I proclaimed in December, this is the #YearOfRahm.
3. Justin Thomas – World Ranking: #12
After an epic win for JT at the Honda Classic, he comes to Mexico where he finished T-5th last season. That was a little skewed, because he made a hole-in-one and holed out another iron shot, but he should have plenty of positive vibes. JT is a streaky player, and we’ve seen him go on runs of back-to-back wins in his young career. I wouldn’t put it past him this week, especially because his game suits this course so well.
4. Tommy Fleetwood – World Ranking: #21
What an unbelievable year it’s been for Fleetwood, and he’s showing no signs of slowing down. He nearly won the Honda Classic last week, and comes to Mexico full of confidence. Fleetwood finished 2nd here last year, making nine birdies on Sunday. A win is coming soon, and it could happen here. Fleetwood is a dynamic ball-striker, who hits nearly every fairway and green. He’s clearly putted well on poa annua greens, so there’s nothing not to like this week.
5. Jordan Spieth – World Ranking: #6
Last year, Spieth seemed to get more comfortable here as the week drew on. Although I think putting will be mitigated a bit this week, it wouldn’t suprise me to see him back atop a leaderboard after a couple weeks at home. Spieth is an elite ball-striker, and even in this current slump has been stringing together top-20 finishes. This is the time of year he excels, as he preps for another run at Augusta.
6. Alex Noren – World Ranking: #8
A bad break on the 18th hole kept Noren out of the playoff at the Honda Classic, but you can’t overlook what he’s done the past month. He’s made three straight cuts on the PGA Tour, including 2nd and 3rd place finishes. He’s a world-class talent and a proven winner, who has the game to suit this course. There’s a potential correlation between Chapultapec and Crans-sur-Sierre, where the Omega European Masters is held. Noren has won there, and has a stellar record.
7. Phil Mickelson – World Ranking: #24
Mickelson comes back to Mexico where he finished 7th last year, and is fresh off three consecutive top-10 finishes. That’s pretty incredible for a guy nearing his 50th birthday. Lefty continues to be an elite ball-striker and scrambler, so it’s all about his ability to find fairways. He didn’t do that well last year, but hopefully he’ll be able to hit more irons off-the-tee this time around.
8. Justin Rose – World Ranking: #13
We haven’t seen Rose lately on the PGA Tour, but he’s coming off one of the best stretches of golf in recent memory. This past winter, he strung together a handful of top-10 finishes, including three worldwide wins. He posted an 8th place finish in his last start on the European Tour, and is showing no signs of slowing down. Rose is gearing up for another run at Augusta, where he just missed out on his winning the green jacket a year ago.
9. Rickie Fowler – World Ranking: #9
Fowler imploded last week at the Honda Classic, missing the cut. He tends to bounce back quickly, though, which we saw in Phoenix after a MC at Torrey Pines. One concern is that his iron play has really taking a dip this year, and he’s relied heavily on his putting and short game. That can only carry you so far. I’m wary of Fowler this week, and he’s going to be a popular choice as usual.
10. Paul Casey – World Ranking: #16
Casey should be valued much higher, even in this elite field. He’s one of the most consistent players on Tour, and posted a respectable 16th place finish here last season. Casey struggled a bit at Riviera, which worries me a touch, but he had back-to-back top-10s before that. Casey is overdue for a win, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see it happen in a relaxed, no-cut event.