The first World Golf Championship tournament of the year and one with a delicious recent history. Why so? Because two years ago what was the Cadillac Championship moved from Donald Trump’s Doral in Florida to, of all places, Mexico City for the newly created Mexico Championship.
For a sport which usually panders to the Trump ego it was an astounding and delightfully brilliant snub. “By the way,” Trump snapped in true statesmanlike fashion. “I hope they have kidnapping insurance. This decision only further embodies the very reason I am running for President of the United States.”
And you thought this was just another four days of golf?!
Club de Golf Chapultepec is everything the Blue Monster Course at Doral wasn’t. The latter was a resort track, endlessly being extended to accommodate modern hitting, forever trapped by the lurch towards being entirely one-dimensional.
The former was designed in golf’s glory days at the start of the 20th century; driver is not the go-to club from the tee, the greens are small and the fairways are tree-lined.
⛳️ Hole #⃣1⃣8⃣ - Par 4 - 388 Yards— Mexico Championship (@WGCMexico) February 18, 2019
One of the characteristics is that trees around the tee make the first shot very narrow, and a bunker on the right must be avoided.#WGCMexico 🇲🇽 pic.twitter.com/szdfK8BUJy
There are three or four solid factors to take into account. First up, the altitude: the ball flies further and some golfers get this, others take time adjusting (Justin Thomas argues big hitters with a long carry gain the most yardage).
That said, remember it’s a tricky test (“It demands your attention,” says Rickie Fowler, “we don’t hit a whole lot of drivers.”). Thirdly, there is poa annua grass on the greens (Jordan Spieth: “They get bumpy, you’ve got to be really patient.”).
And finally consider the courses referenced by the players: Sergio Garcia and Ross Fisher likened the challenge to Valderrama, Jon Rahm was reminded of Colonial, Tommy Fleetwood thought it was like many old school Italian courses, and Shubhankar Sharma thrived here after winning in Joburg.
First round leader in 2017, the champion in 2018, Phil Mickelson has enjoyed this tournament in its brief history. What’s more he always had a sense he would, saying ahead of the inaugural championship that he’d heard the poa annua greens would remind him of California.
That, of course, is home to the 48-year-old, he’s racked up 12 career wins in the state and said last year: “I grew up playing kikuyu on the fairways and poa annua on the greens. I love how the ball sits up in kikuyu, you can get the wedge underneath it, you have to fly the ball onto the green, that’s how I like playing it anyway. It feels very comfortable.”
A three-shot winner at Pebble Beach the veteran got off to a sluggish start last week in the Genesis Open, but played all four rounds. He’s always a threat when he feels a track plays to his strengths and this one does exactly that. He’s 28/1 with William Hill (six places).
The two winners on this course have been dynamite Californian performers (Mickelson’s 12 wins and Dustin Johnson has three).
More than that, they are both multiple champions on poa annua and that description fits Bubba Watson who is a three-time winner at Riviera and also owns a win at Torrey Pines.
He played nicely last week in LA, only a shoddy third round hurting his hopes of a top five and he also notched a top ten here last year. He’s 33/1 with Paddy Power (seven places).
Some players talk of hitting the ball at altitude as a simple case of mathematics (in fact Mickelson is one: “Everybody’s got Trackman which tells them all the numbers they need”), others get a little befuddled when the ball flies extraordinary distances.
Matt Fitzpatrick makes an interesting case because he is a) well-known for carrying a Trackman everywhere, and b) he has an exceptional record at Crans-sur-Sierre, high in the Alps, at the European Masters (second in 2015, winner in 2017 and 2018).
He was also second at the Hong Kong Open late last year and both Tommy Fleetwood and Rafa Cabrera Bello have recorded top three finishes on that tight test prior to adding a top five in this tournament.
Fitzpatrick also has some decent form this calendar year. He was fourth in the Singapore Open and then grabbed the first-round lead in the Dubai Desert Classic ahead of finishing T16th.
He’s yet to play his very best golf on the PGA Tour or in WGC events, but an examination like this week is as good a chance as any, playing to so many of his strengths. He’s 15/2 for a top ten finish with Unibet (the bolder may look at the 90/1 in the outright market).
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