Recap of the day
Playing in three-balls from a two-tee start, the action started a 11.03 local time, so no crazy alarm calls. Tiger Woods may wish he’d have stayed in bed though after hitting his opening shot out of bounds and there were plenty of early bogeys and doubles. But while it can punish mistakes, Chapultepec is also highly scorable and round one quickly turned into the Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson show. Rory eventually edged their battle, shooting 63 to DJ’s 64, the pair two clear of Justin Thomas and Matt Kuchar. There was a clear highlight. The altitude in Mexico City means the ball flies much further than normal (more on that later) and Rory smashed a two-iron over 300 feet on the par-4 10th hole, casually rolling in a six-footer for one of the coolest eagles you’ll see. The big shock was defending champion Phil Mickelson, who sleepwalked his way to an 8-over 79 to finish tied 70th of the 72-man field.
Selected others: -2 Sergio Garcia, -1 Bubba Watson, Tommy Fleetwood, Evs Francesco Molinari, Rickie Fowler, Tiger Woods, +1 Hideki Matsuyama, +2 Brooks Koepka, +3 Tony Finau, +4 Jordan Spieth, Bryson DeChambeau, +8 Phil Mickelson.
Revised betting: 9/4 McIlroy, 11/4 Johnson, 6/1 Thomas, 16/1 Kuchar, 28/1 Hatton.
Friday weather forecast
After Pebble and Riviera, it’s understandable we might be wary of curveballs but this is Mexico and the weather is much more reliable. It’s sunshine and a little cloud throughout the golfing day with temps in the mid-to-high 70s dropping slightly in late afternoon. Wind speeds look minimal.
Leaders after 18 holes
Rory McIlroy (63) – Rory had holed just 55 feet of putts after 14 holes of his round and yet was 8-under. No-one has ever hit all 18 greens in this event but McIlroy went close, missing just one dancefloor in the right number (it cost him a bogey). And how about that 2-iron!
Dustin Johnson (64) – Seven birdies, 11 pars. All very simple for DJ, who gets on incredibly well with this track after a win and a T7 in his two starts. This 64 beat his previous best at Chapultepec by two shots. Piped 11 fairways and ranked 3rd in SG: Tee-to-Green.
Matt Kuchar (66) – A winner of the Mayakoba Classic on his last start in Mexico (although now remembered more for caddy-gate). Kooch may have been busy with some recent PR but it’s not affected his golf and he used a balanced attack to carve out this impressive 66.
Fate of the favorites
Justin Thomas (66) – JT was blown off course at Riviera last week but, enjoying the quicker pace of play, he delivered what most gamers had expected due to his converging course and current form trends. Ranked 1st in SG: Around The Green.
Dustin Johnson (64) – (See above)
Rory McIlroy (66) – (See Above)
Notes: Not a bad start for the three pre-tournament betting favorites then as they ended up first, second and tied third!
Rory McIlroy (63): “It felt pretty stress free. I wouldn’t say it was easy, but I mean I hit a lot of good golf shots and left myself a lot of tap-ins for birdies and had a nice eagle on the first, my 10th hole. I shot a 63 as well at Riviera last week but this felt probably a little more stress free.“
Dustin Johnson (64): “Anytime you go bogey free it’s a good day. I played well, gave myself a lot of opportunities. Missed a couple of short ones but around here the greens are pretty tricky. I’m very pleased with how I played.”
Matt Kuchar (66): “Very pleased. Course is tough. I was hitting the ball well, able to stay out of trouble for the most part and awfully pleased to be 5-under. You really have to drive the ball well, think your way around, plot your way. This is one that just requires great ball-striking.”
Road to victory at Chapultepec
2018 Phil Mickelson – R1: 13th, R2: 14th, R3: 2nd
2017 Dustin Johnson – R1: 20th, R2: 5th, R3: 2nd
Notes: The two winners at Chapultepec hadn’t really shown their hand after 18 holes although both made solid starts. Mickelson fired a 69 to be T13 and five off the pace while DJ opened with a 70 to sit T20 and just three back. So need for fireworks on day one is the early trend here.
Fate of the 18-hole leaders at Chapultepec – where did they finish?
2018 Louis Oosthuizen – 30th
Notes: Last year’s R1 leader Oosthuizen went backwards after a hot start while there was an even split between the six-co-leaders in 2017. Three rode those good openers to a healthy finish but three finished outside the T25 or rose.
Focus on – Rory McIlroy
There’s a perception that McIlroy is not the force he was and that the killer instinct has gone. And yet on days like these he gives credence to the idea that Rory’s best is still better than anyone else’s. Clearly this hasn’t just come out of the blue. Rory has gone 4-5-4 in three starts this year and last week ranked 1st for GIR and All-Around. He’s close. This was his take after today’s 63: “My attitude on the golf course is fantastic and my putting is good. I had three really good putting rounds at Riviera. The best they’ve been in a long time. I’m also finally healthy again and can hit as many balls as I want.” That latter point shouldn’t be underestimated. The effects of limited practice may only truly come out in a final round when the added pressure detects any weaknesses. Many have speculated that Rory’s flat Sundays are a mental problem but, in truth, there may be a physical aspect to them too. With the Masters less than 50 days away, Rory is putting the pieces of the jigsaw together.
Focus on – Altitude
One of the big talking points this week is the altitude in Mexico City and how players are making adjustments to balls flying up to 15% further than normal. The course may measure 7,345 yards on the card but the ‘real’ yardage is closer to 6,700. Unless you’re Bryson DeChambeau. Speaking in his pre-tournament press conference ‘The Scientist’ claimed the course was effectively 9,000 yards! “Spin rate, spin rate on the golf ball changes dramatically in this type of air,” he explained. “The decay is a lot less because there's no air resistance. You get a ball that starts off with less spin, first off because of the turf interaction; and second off, it doesn't stay spinning at all. It just decays really quickly.” You sensed DeChambeau was in his element, punching in the numbers and working it all out so how did the reality pan out? A four-over 75 and not a single birdie. Oh! Ever get the feeling that it’s possible to overcomplicate things? This was what another player said: “I get a number, I take a percentage off and I go with it. I try to keep it as simple as possible.” That was Dustin Johnson. And he shot 64. You do the math.