Mexico Open 2022: Caddie Line’s Picks, Power Rankings include Abraham Ancer, Tony Finau, Gary Woodland in wide-open PGA Tour field

Tony Finau
Tony Finau is one of the favorites in the field at the Mexico Open. (Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports)

The fantasy golf adventure continues as we head farther south for the Mexico Open, a tournament that began in 1944 but makes its debut as an official PGA Tour event this week.

Because it’s a new course in the western part of the country and the best in the world have been busy the last two months, the field is weaker than most. Only four of the top 25 players (and nine of the top 75) in the world are on site at Vidanta Vallarta, a 7,465-yard, par-71 resort layout designed by Greg Norman.

The Mexico Open field will face wide fairways, large greens and over 100 bunkers along with water hazards in play on five tee shots and 10 approach shots. Paspalum grass, a wide blade sticky surface, covers the fairways and greens. The players also encountered paspalum at the regular stops in Puerto Rico, Mayakoba and the Dominican Republic as well as last year’s PGA Championship at Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course.

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As a caddie, I always enjoyed analyzing new or rarely seen courses. The secrets were uncovered and there was always  pre-tournament banter among players and caddies about the best way to attack certain shots or dissect tricky holes. The less experienced players may feel like it’s more of a fair fight. The Mexico Open course seems straightforward and long, open soft courses often yield birdies to pro golfers. Expect a 3 or 4 under cut and a winning score in the low 20s.

Wind is always a factor on coastal courses but the initial forecast doesn’t call for anything more than warm gentle breezes. What skills will be required? A few that stand out:

  • Distance seems helpful on a long course at sea level with no rough and five par-4s measuring at least 475 yards.
  • Approach play must be sharp from 175 yards and longer.
  • Those who create the most birdie opportunities and thrive when scoring is low should also enjoy this setup.
  • Current form always matters and we dug around for those whose results haven’t matched their ballstriking performance of late.

A week like this presents a two-year exemption and all the other perks to the champion and gives others a chance to take a step toward securing their playing privileges for the 2022-23 season. On with the fantasy golf picks and power rankings for the Mexico Open:

Longer Shots

25. Tyler Duncan. Hasn’t had a top-10 since he won the RSM in the fall of 2019 but he’s bettered the field average on approach in four of his last five starts—landing in the top 35 each time—and has a solid record on Paspalum.

24. Charles Howell III. Has top 35 finishes at Mayakoba and Puntacana in the last year and remains a steady ballstriker, gaining 10 shots tee to green in a recent fourth place finish at the Texas Open.

23. Mark Hubbard. Making just his third start since late February, this is a bit of a gut play. He’s made six of nine cuts and is 12th in the field in SG: Tee-to-Green over the last 36 rounds. Sitting 131st in the FedEx Cup standings, he has to take advantage of every tee time.

22. Danny Lee. Leads the field in SG: Total on Paspalum over the last 24 rounds, a stat enhanced by a pair of top-10s at the Mayakoba in the last three-and-a-half years. What has he done lately? Not a lot, missing five of the last eight cuts. But the birdies are there (2nd in field) and he’s also top 25 in proximity from 175-200 yards and 200-plus.

21. Joseph Bramlett. He’s a bomber (2nd in the field) and also 23rd in SG: Approach on longer golf courses. Gained shots Tee-to-Green in four of the last five tournaments. Has the talent to contend more often if the putter will cooperate.

Mid-Range Contenders

20. Adam Svensson. He is second in the field in proximity from 175-200 yards (100-round span) and 10th from 200 yards or longer. He’s also gained strokes putting in three consecutive measured tournaments. Top 10 in birdies. Must avoid big mistakes.

19. Wyndham Clark. Ranks third on Tour in driving distance and top 25 in this field in birdies or better and scoring on easy courses. Should be feeling good after a T-10 in New Orleans. His SG: Approach (131st) is troubling but those numbers improve on the longer iron shots he’ll face this week.

18. Doug Ghim. Solid ballstriking through the bag but has only two top-10s in 72 PGA Tour starts. Hanging around the bubble in the FedEx race (123rd). Should be able to rack up points this week considering he’s first in proximity from 175-200 yards and 16th in SG: Tee-to-Green over the last 36 rounds.

abraham ancer
Abraham Ancer is looking to get back to form on his native soil this week. (Katie Goodale-Augusta Chronicle/USA TODAY Network)

17. Pat Perez. The Tour’s king of candor is also a sneaky resort course jester. You keep your playing card for 20 years by understanding how to cash checks when the superstars are sitting on their yachts. Ranks top 25 in the field in scoring on Paspalum and courses measuring 7,400 yards or more.

16. Austin Smotherman. Someone I trust told me to keep an eye on this 27-year-old Californian because his ballstriking acumen would make him a frequent contender. He’s a prime candidate to break out in Mexico. Long off the tee (23rd), top 15 in proximity from 175-200 and 200 plus and has gained shots on approach in seven of his last nine tournaments.

15. Cameron Champ. Let’s get weird. Listened to Andy Lack’s always entertaining Inside Golf Podcast this week and he made excellent points regarding Champ’s chances in Mexico. He’s unafraid to come out of nowhere and contend. Top 20 in proximity from 175 yards or more, longest driver in the field.

14. Abraham Ancer. Ancer has struggled to find his sensational summer 2021 form through 11 tournaments in the current season. But he’s excellent on Paspalum and comfortable hitting long shots into greens. He’d also love nothing more than to win his National Open so he’ll be locked in from the opening tee shot.

13. Chad Ramey. Won in Puntacana and finished fifth in Puerto Rico so he would’ve flown the airplane himself if that’s what was required to reach Vidanta Nuevo Vallarta. Ranks fifth in the field in Birdies or Better and scoring on long golf courses. With a two-year exemption locked up, he’s swinging freely.

12. Matt Jones. I have never accurately predicted a good Matt Jones finish. If that doesn’t make you feel good about this selection, not sure what might. Still, the numbers reveal he’s fifth in the field in SG: Tee-to-Green over the last 36 rounds, top 10 in scoring on 7,400 yard courses or longer and a bomber.

11. Sahith Theegala. A birdie machine who flourishes on longer golf courses. He’s been a workhorse in his rookie campaign, making 18 starts (and 14 cuts). Ballstriking is erratic but when he’s rolling it leads to high finishes (T-7 at Valspar, T-3 at Phoenix).

Top 10 Picks

10. Chris Kirk. He’s second in the field in SG: Tee-to-Green over the last 36 rounds—averaging 5.3 strokes gained over his last five tournaments—and ninth in SG: Total on courses of 7,400 yards or longer. His reliable ballstriking and ability to navigate long par-4s should be beneficial.

9. Alex Smalley. His skill set and the challenge presented at Vidanta should be a good fit. Ranks top 25 in the field in driving distance, SG on Paspalum, SG: Off-the-Tee on easy driving courses, scoring on longer courses, scoring on easy courses and proximity from 175-200 and 200-plus.

8. Jon Rahm. The clear favorite in Vegas and elsewhere, Rahm has not thrived in birdie bonanzas during his career. Still, he’s fifth in the field in proximity from 175-200 yards, first from 200 yards and farther and also leads the field in SG: Tee-to-Green over the last 36 rounds.

7. Aaron Wise. After he opened the season with top-10s in two of his first three tournaments, felt certain this was the year he reached another level. Hasn’t worked out that way but he’s gained shots Tee-to-Green and Off-the-Tee in four consecutive starts and finished runner-up and 15th the last two years at Mayakoba.

aaron rai
Aaron Rai is a solid bet in Mexico this week. (Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports)

6. Lanto Griffin. Seeking his first top-10 since a T-3 at the AMEX in January. He’s second in the field in scoring on easy courses over the last 36 rounds and sixth in SG: Approach on courses 7,400 yards and longer. Gained shots Off-the-Tee in four of the last six tournaments.

5. Sebastian Munoz. Ranks third in the field in birdies or better and first in scoring on 450-500 yard par-4s. Iron game has been tight of late, gaining an average of 1.5 shots on approach over the last five tournaments. Has a pair of top-5s this season and has five consecutive finishes of 39th or better.

4. Anirban Lahiri. Has three top-5s in his last 26 tournaments. Can’t get his performance at TPC-Sawgrass out of my mind. Concerned he doesn’t make enough birdies (124th) for what could be a shootout, but he has a strong record on Paspalum and ranks sixth in SG: Off-the-Tee on easy driving courses.

3. Gary Woodland. Other than a missed cut at Augusta, the former U.S. Open champion has been trending upward, recording three top-8 finishes in the last six starts. Strong with mid-to-long irons, he’s 12th in the field in SG: Off-the-Tee on easy driving courses and first in scoring on 450-500 yard par-4s.

2. Tony Finau. One of his two PGA Tour victories came on a relatively open course with Paspalum grass in Puerto Rico. This is his 12th start of the 2021-22 season and he’s still looking for his first top-10. The surprising drought ends this week. He leads the field in SG: Off-the-Tee when the fairways are wide and also in SG: Approach on long courses.

1. Aaron Rai. Has six international victories, including the 2020 Scottish Open over an outstanding field. Ranks 13th in SG: Tee-to-Green over the last 36 rounds. Played well last week in New Orleans and his sharp iron play is a reliable asset. Excellent in proximity from long range, makes ample birdies (12th in field) and won’t be deterred by a stiff breeze. Just average length off the tee but he’ll have two gloved hands on the trophy come Sunday night.

Bargain Bin

Paul Barjon, Hayden Buckley, Scott Gutschewski, Lee Hodges
Trey Mullinax, Andrew Novak, Adam Schenk
Vaughn Taylor, Vincent Whaley, Jared Wolfe

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