WGC Mexico Preview: Mickelson Defends
Purse: $10.25 million ($1.745 million to winner)
Course: Chapultepec Golf Club, Mexico City (Par 71, 7,345 yards)
Defending champion: Phil Mickelson (-16), defeated Justin Thomas with a par on the first playoff hole.
The Field: Consists of 72 players, including nine of the top 10 and 56 of the top 61 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Sixteen are making their first appearance in this event with three making their WGC debuts.
An elite field will gather in Mexico this weekend for the year’s first World Golf Championship, where Phil Mickelson beat Justin Thomas in one of 2018’s most thrilling finishes.
Club de Golf Chapultepec, on the outskirts of Mexico City, doesn’t look or play like your average PGA Tour venue. It’s at altitude – almost 8,000 feet above sea level – so the ball flies a good 10% further than normal in the thinner air. It’s also tight and tree-lined, with small, slopey greens guarded by numerous bunkers. European players have compared it to Crans sur Sierre, the Alpine home of the Omega European Masters.
Club de Golf Chapultepec, on Mexico City’s affluent outskirts, is a 7,345-yard par 71 layout with a history going back to 1921. This is its third World Golf Championship, with previous winners Dustin Johnson and Phil Mickelson.
Scot Willie Smith – winner of the 1899 US Open – drew up the original plans for the course, but saw construction interrupted by the Mexican Revolution before he died of pneumonia in 1916 with the course still unfinished. It was left to Smith’s brother Alex – himself a double US Open champion – to finish the project.
The first Mexican Open was played at Chapultepec in 1944, remaining as host until 1960 when the event began rotating sites.
A Percy Clifford redesign in 1972 made significant changes. Uphill closing holes at 15, 16 and 17 provide a challenging test to finish the round.
The altitude also plays havoc with players’ regular yardages. Some of the numbers the players hit the ball just baffles them. Bubba Watson, for instance, carried a 6-iron 252 yards in a practice round last year. Jordan Spieth hit a few 5-irons 235 yards last year; usually, his 5-iron maxes out at 195 yards at sea level. Two years ago, when DJ won the first WGC here, he hit mostly 2-irons through the 72 holes. Webb Simpson said: “It’s so hard to trust that a 7-iron that normally goes 180 is going to go 195, 200. And you have to curve it there, and last year the ball wasn’t curving as much.”
Who might win…
Justin Thomas, Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy are the top-three favourites with the bookies for obvious reasons, while Hawaii ToC winner Xander Schauffele had a top 20 last year including an opening round 65 and won the last WGC event.
Justin Thomas: 10/1
Fell one shot short last week after holding a four-shot advantage after 54-holes, but it was his third top five in four starts in 2019. Thomas also has an excellent record in Mexico; he holds the course record of 62, lost in a play-off against Mickelson last year and finished T5 in 2017. Ranks 1st on the PGA Tour for SG: Tee to green and SG: Appraoch the green, 2nd for birdie average, 3rd for scoring average and 10th for GIR.
Dustin Johnson: 10/1
The 2017 champion was T7 last year and finished T9 last week, totalling his third top 10 in 2019 - which includes a win at the Saudi International. Ranks 5th SG: Around the green on the PGA Tour this season.
Rory McIlroy: 12/1
In three starts in 2019 McIlroy has finished T4-T5-T4, and with a T7 here in 2017 (didn't play last year) it feels likely he'll be in for a good week. Ranks 1st for SG: Off the tee and 3rd for SG: Tee to green.
Jon Rahm: 16/1
Rahm heads to Mexico with seven top 10s in a row, which includes a T9 at last week's Genesis Open. T20 last year and T3 in Mexico in 2017. Ranks 4th SG: Off the tee, 16th for Scoring average and 18th for SG: Tee to green.
Bryson DeChambeau: 18/1
11 top 10s in a row for DeChambeau, who hasn't had an over-par round this season. That includs a T15 last week, and victory at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic. Ranks 2nd for scoring average, 3rd for birdie average, 6th for SG: Tee to green and 7th for SG: Off the tee.
Rickie Fowler: 18/1
First start for Fowler since his win at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. In two starts in Mexico has gone T16-T38 and ranks 4th for scoring average and SG: Off the tee, 5th for birdie average and SG: Putting.
Tiger Woods: 20/1
Making his first start since this WGC moved to Mexico, and heads here after two consecutive top 20s. Doesn't rank in stats yet for this season but was 3rd for SG: Approach, 7th for Scoring average and 8th for SG: Tee to green last year.
Brooks Koepka: 25/1
First start since a T57 at the Saudi International, which followed a T9 in Abu Dhabi. Missed Mexico with an injury last year and was T48 in 2017, but would be unwise to write off the World No.2 - even if he doesn't have any particular stand-out stats for this season as yet. Ranked inside the top 10 on Tour last year for birdie average, scoring average and SG: Off the tee.
Hideki Matsuyama: 28/1
Two top 10s in 2019 which includes a T9 at last week's Genesis Open. Like Koepka skipped Mexico with an injury last year, and was T25 in 2017. Ranks 2nd for SG: Tee to green, 4th for SG: Approach the green and 15th for Scoring average.
Marc Leishman: 28/1
Finished T4 at the Genesis Open, which was his 5th top-five this season. A T37 in Mexico in 2018. Ranks 5th SG: Approach, 7th Scoring average, 11th Birdie average and 16th SG: Putting.
Paul Casey: 28/1
Followed up back-to-back runner-up finishes with a T25 at last week's Genesis Open. Finished T12 last year in Mexico, and T16 in 2017. Ranks 10th SG: Around the green, 15th SG: Tee to green, 19th for Driving Accuracy and 28th for Scoring Average.
Phil Mickelson: 28/1
Defending champion in Mexico who was T7 the year before in 2017. Followed up his victory at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro Am with a T37 last week at the Genesis Open. Ranks 5th for Scoring average, 10th for Birdie average and 13th for SG: Approach the green this season.
Xander Schauffele: 28/1
In four starts in 2019 Schauffele has posted a victory and hasn't finished worse than T25, ending up T15 last week. Was T18 in Mexico in 2018. Ranks 9th for SG: Putting, 11th for SG: Around the green and 12th for Scoring average.
Jordan Spieth: 33/1
T35-T45-T51 in Spieth's last three starts on Tour don't tell the whole story: He was in contention all three weeks at one point (ranks 6th for 1st round scoring average) before struggling over the weekend, so if he can keep his form going for four rounds there's a chance he could do well here. Was T14 in 2018 and T12 in 2017 in Mexico.
Patrick Cantlay: 33/1
Four top 10s in his last six starts, and despite a WD from the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro Am he returned with a T15 at the Genesis Open. Was T30 in Mexico in 2018. Ranks 7th for SG: Tee to green, 9th for Scoring average and inside the top 25 for SG: Off the tee, SG: Approach the green and SG: Around the green.
Gary Woodland: 40/1
Four top 10s in his last five starts, including a T7 during his last start at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. T50 in 2018, T38 in 2017. Ranks 4th for Birdie average and SG: Tee to green, 5th for GIR, 6th for SG: Approach the green and 10th for Scoring average.
Matt Kuchar: 50/1
Two victories and no worse than T28 in Kuchar's last seven starts so worth a bet despite a T57 last year here and T20 in 2017. Ranks 6th for Scoring average and Driving accuracy, 9th for GIR, and inside the top 20 for Birdie average, SG: Approach the green and SG: Tee to green.
Tyrrell Hatton: 60/1
T3-T10 in two starts in Mexico prove his game is suited to the course, and is the only player not have recorded a three-putt in the last 8 rounds. MC last week at the Gensis Open but was T15 the week before, and ranks 1st on the PGA Tour for SG: Around the green.
Mickelson returned to the winners circle at the WGC Mexico Championship for the first time since winning the 2013 Open, defeating Justin Thomas on the first play-off hole.
A thrilling final day that included a hole-out eagle on the 18th from Justin Thomas and several changes at the top of the leaderboard was capped off with Mickelson ending the longest winless drought of his career.
Thomas, who was coming off his eighth PGA Tour win at the Honda Classic last week, pushed himself into contention by posting a course record 62 on Saturday and holing out for eagle on the last hole on Sunday for a 64 - setting the clubhouse lead at 16-under.
Mickelson, who had let an early lead slip to Thomas, needed two birdies on his final four holes to force sudden death, or better to win outright. Back to back gains at the 14th and 15th holes put him alongside Thomas and Hatton (who eagled 14), and a long-range two-putt par on the 18th secured his spot in the play-off. Hatton bogeyed the 18th to miss out by one.
The pair headed back to the par-3 17th hole, and while Thomas put his shot into the rough, Mickelson's approach safely found the green. The 47-year-old’s birdie had a look in the hole but just skipped past, but it would transpire that a par was enough to get the job done.
"I can't put into words how much this means to me," Mickelson said. "I knew it was going to be soon -- I've been playing too well for it not to be. But you just never know until it happens.
“It’s been a tough go the last four years. To have the belief that I was going to get there and finally break through, and do it, feels incredible.”
Lefty’s 43rd PGA Tour win just spurred him on to want more. He still sits at ninth on the all-time PGA Tour victories list, two behind Walter Hagen and 36 behind Tiger Woods. But will he ever get to 50, he was asked? (He took one step closer with victory at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am in February).
“Oh I will,” he said. ”Yeah, I’ll get there.”
“I don’t know (when I'll get to 50). Seven more wins and I’ll be there, but I don’t have the month or the time, but I will get there.
“More is to come. I’m starting to play some of my best golf. I’m actually hitting some shots better than I ever have in my career.”
DID YOU KNOW…
This is the 20th edition of the WGC-Mexico Championship and the third consecutive year that it is being held in Mexico City.
Chapultepec Golf Club, which previously hosted the Mexican Open 18 times, is the seventh course to host this championship and Mexico is the fifth different country to host along with Spain, Ireland, England, and the U.S.
Tiger Woods, a seven-time winner of the WGC-Mexico Championship and 18-time WGC winner, is making his first appearance in this event since 2014 and his first-ever professional start in Mexico.
Woods has a career scoring average of 68.6 in WGC stroke play events, best of any player all-time with at least 20 rounds played.
Dustin Johnson has 11 top-10 finishes in his last 18 worldwide starts, and owns the best cumulative score in relation to par in WGC stroke-play events the last 5 years (75 under).