After two American winners of the WGC-Mexico Championship since it moved from Trump National Doral, Europe will look to get one of its own on the board this week.
They’ve certainly gone close.
Spain’s Rafa Cabrera Bello and England’s Tyrrell Hatton were just a shot shy of the Mickelson-Thomas play-off last year while Tommy Fleetwood led four Europeans into the top five in the inaugural edition in 2017.
This preview will focus on the European challenge once more but also delve into the best Overseas and American players with memberships and thus eligible for the official ET fantasy game.
Some stats from this week’s venue, Club de Golf Chapultepec, in the last two years:
Leading finishers in 2018
-16 Phil Mickelson (DD: 40, DA: 53, GIR: 25, Scr: 2, PA: 3, AA: 15)
-16 Justin Thomas (DD: 43, DA: 9, GIR: 16, Scr: 3, PA: 1, AA: 1)
-15 Rafa Cabrera Bello (DD: 43, DA: 24, GIR: 25, Scr: 18, PA: 2, AA: 10)
-15 Tyrrell Hatton (DD: 50, DA: 3, GIR: 7, Scr: 10, PA: 6, AA: 2)
-13 Kiradech Aphibarnrat (DD: 49, DA: 24, GIR: 19, Scr: 1, PA: 29, AA: 14)
-13 Brian Harman (DD: 13, DA: 39, GIR: 4, Scr: 23, PA: 5, AA: 3)
Leading finishers in 2017
-14 Dustin Johnson (DD: 4, DA: 59, GIR: 5, Scr: 14, PA: 5, AA: 3)
-13 Tommy Fleetwood (DD: 21, DA: 5, GIR: 5, Scr: 2, PA: 30, AA: 1)
-12 Ross Fisher (DD: 25, DA: 12, GIR: 2, Scr: 21, PA: 8, AA: 2)
-12 Jon Rahm (DD: 2, DA: 65, GIR: 46, Scr: 1, PA: 28, AA: 14)
-11 Thomas Pieters (DD: 47, DA: 25, GIR: 21, Scr: 9, PA: 11, AA: 6)
-11 Justin Thomas (DD: 30, DA: 68, GIR: 38, Scr: 67, PA: 1, AA: 49)
Notes: Some of those DD stats look odd (Harman 13th and Thomas 43rd) but short game appeared to be king last year with the top players showing up strongly for Scrambling and Putting Average. The top two scramblers also made the top five in 2017.
We have only two years of form at the par-71 7,345-yard Club de Golf Chapultepec in Mexico City which opened in 1928 but a useful link has already been established. Do tree-lined fairways, kikuyu and poa/bent greens bring anything to mind? Yes, that’s what we had at Riviera and already there are some strong correlations. In 2017, Dustin Johnson and Thomas Pieters finished 1-2 at Riviera before coming to Chapultepec and taking first and fourth while, going the other way, Justin Thomas’ second (2018) and fifth (2017) at Chapultepec should have warned us that he was going to do something big at Riviera. That was the case last week. And, of course, last year’s winner in Mexico was Phil Mickelson, a two-time champ at the Riv.
After some troublesome conditions at Pebble and Riviera, the symbols in Mexico this week are big gold discs. Temperatures are around 80 degrees all four days while wind levels should be fairly steady (8mph-12mph) throughout the week.
Tommy Fleetwood (2018): “It is a very European layout. Last year it just reminded us of playing in Italy or some of the courses that we play, a bit of an old-school golf course. It's still different, it's still a long way above sea level and the greens are a bit slopy than what we're used to. So there are still differences that we don't get but just the general feel of when you're walking down the fairways and seeing the tee shots, it's tree lined, that is quite a European feel to it.”
Justin Rose (2018): “It's interesting, it's a fun golf course. Obviously with the altitude, there's also those calculations you're trying to figure out, how far is the ball going and there's not just the standard calculations, it's not just 10 percent across the board. It seems to change with different clubs.”
Jon Rahm (2018): “The more I play this golf course, the more I like it.
Sergio Garcia (2018): “It's the kind of golf course I like. You know, Valderrama is my favorite golf course, small greens. Sawgrass, one of my favorite golf courses, small greens. So I do like these kind of courses better.”
Top 10 Euros
Rory’s killer instinct may have gone for the time being and we’re judging him on final rounds or closing holes but the bottom line is that he’s pegged it up three times in 2019 and finished 4-5-4. In a neat reflection of that, he shot 68-65-70-71 to finish T7 on his only start at Chapultepec in 2017. A reminder that Rory isn’t available for the official ET fantasy game after giving up membership in 2019.
Stretching back to his final start of 2018, the big-hitting Spaniard has connected six top tens, the last coming via T9 at Riviera on Sunday despite never getting in a blow at the leaders. He sparked at Chapultepec on debut in 2017, finishing third, and added T20 last year. All the Spaniards get treated like royalty here.
Slow starts (74 in 2017 and 73 last year) have hampered Casey at Chapultepec but he’s closed with 66 in both editions to finish T12 and T16 respectively. He returns as one of the in-form Europeans after back-to-back second places in Singapore and Pebble Beach and a top 25 at Riviera where he ranked second for GIR.
It was when finishing runner-up here in 2017 that we really saw Fleetwood was capable of mixing it with golf’s elite and it’s a pattern he’s continued ever since. He was a little sluggish at Chapultepec last year but shot 67-66 on the weekend to take T14. Not quite found his best in 2019 but T28 at Riviera suggests he’s building.
Like Rahm, he’ll feel the extra benefits of huge local support and being able to speak his native tongue and he loved his time in Mexico City last year, shooting 66-67-69-67 to take third. That followed T38 on debut. RCB was T11 in Abu Dhabi and boasted strong Scrambling numbers at both Pebble and Riviera where he took T22 and T25 respectively.
The Open champ has two respectable finishes here – T20 and T25 – and saved his best until last both years (R4s of 66 in 2017 and 68 in 2018). We’ve seen him just once since November and that was a lacklustre T27 in a limited field at the Sentry TOC. Gives the impression he’s gently easing himself into the year.
After thanking Matt Kuchar for taking some of the heat off him, Garcia recovered from Saudi-gate and an opening 75 in R1 of the Genesis by shooting 67- 69-71 over the final 54 holes at Riviera to recover to T37. If the angle with Sergio is that he still needs to be loved, he’ll get that here in Mexico. T12 on debut and T7 last year shows he responds to it.
Poulter has been busy. He took T18 and T33 in the two Hawaii events and then played some excellent golf on the Desert Swing with a run of 6-3-6 from Abu Dhabi to Dubai to Saudi. He ranked in the top three for GIR in the latter two. What we don’t have is course form as this is his debut at Chapultepec.
Not many in the field can boast top tens in both editions but Hatton is on that list after T10 in 2017 and third last year. Twelve months ago he fired 64-67 on the weekend. The Englishman didn’t make the cut at Riviera but was T15 at TPC Phoenix on his previous start so the form is there.
One of the relatively few Euros who can boast a WGC win while still looking capable of another. That victory came in the 2015 WGC-Bridgestone, a triumph he hadn’t added to until ending the drought in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship last month. Backed it up with T12 in Dubai before MC at Pebble. This is his course debut.