WGC-Mexico Championship: Expert picks and best bets
EDITOR’S NOTE: Brian Mull is a former caddie who spent several years walking alongside the world’s best players inside the ropes on the PGA Tour. Throughout the 2019-20 season, he will be filing a gambling picks piece — as well as a weekly fantasy golf picks piece — applying the expert knowledge he’s acquired over the years by following the players and courses on Tour so closely.
The WGC-Mexico Championship is where I’ve focused my attention this week, breaking down a 67-man field that includes the No. 1 player in the world and betting favorite, Rory McIlroy, but lacks eight of the top 50, including Tiger Woods.
A truly international conglomeration has arrived in Mexico City to battle the par-71, 7,355-yard Club de Golf Chapultepec which plays roughly 10 percent shorter due to the high altitude and thin air.
Precision iron play and scrambling ability are vital assets at Chapultepac, which is the host course for this event — formerly played at Doral — for the fourth time. Hitting the fairways hasn’t been critical as it pertains to winning, but scoring on the three par 5s and avoiding 3-putts on the tricky greens is a key step on the road to victory.
Dustin Johnson has made the place his personal playground with a pair of victories sandwiched around a tie for seventh. Among the 49 players who have competed in this event at least once in the last three years, he’s top 5 in every significant strokes gained category except around the green, where he’s 27th. Then again, last year as he fired 21 under and crushed the field by five shots, he led the field in greens in regulation and putting, which is always a winning combination. When DJ is on that level, everyone else is trying to chase the 20-time PGA Tour winner.
The 15th hole, a 572-yard par 5, offers the last good opportunity to make a birdie or eagle, something the field has accomplished more than half the time over the last three years.
The weather forecast is ideal with temperatures in the upper 70s and lower 80s and moderate wind in the 8-13 mph range.
As always, good luck and have fun.
Odds on the favorites (via golfodds.com):
Over / under: 268.5 (15.5 under)
Rory McIlroy +600
Dustin Johnson +800
Jon Rahm +1000
Justin Thomas +1000
Xander Schauffele +2000
Webb Simpson +2000
Hideki Matsuyama +2000
Tommy Fleetwood +2000
Bryson DeChambeau +3000
Colin Morikawa +4000
Matt Kuchar +4000
Paul Casey +4000
Sergio Garcia +4000
Louis Oosthuizen +4000
Patrick Reed +4000
Gary Woodland +4000
Expert picks and best bets
Tommy Fleetwood (+2000) — It feels like the 29-year-old Englishman has been one hot putting week from breaking through and claiming his first PGA Tour victory for three or four years now. Ranked 11th in the world, Fleetwood finished runner-up at The Open last summer and really hit his stride in the latter stages of 2019, winning in South Africa and finishing second in the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai. He continued the strong play of late, finished tied for second and 11th in the two desert events that annually kickstart the European Tour schedule. Maybe it’s the flowing locks or perhaps the efficient compact swing, maybe the upbeat attitude or rise from the ranks to become a pro golf star, but for whatever reason Fleetwood has remained high on my list, always on the cusp of earning his place among the game’s best players but lingering just on the outside of becoming a full-fledged member. There’s no doubting his talent. With his recent stellar form and a solid track record at Club de Golf Chapultepec, this is the week Fleetwood breaks through and hoists a trophy on North American soil. Fleetwood was the runner-up here in 2017. He’s sixth in Strokes Gained: total in the 12 rounds he’s played on the demanding layout over the last three rounds and a respectable 13th in putting. If he can climb into the top 10 in the putting stats this week, we’ll see him finally realize a dream.
Last week: Xander Schauffele (+2000). Slow start (72-70) wrecked his chances, T-23.
Cameron Smith (+10000) — With his PGA Tour victory, followed by Marc Leishman and Adam Scott, this feels like the year of the Aussie, something to keep in mind as we inch closer to Augusta National and the annual invitational there. Smith fared well in his WGC-Mexico debut last year, tying for sixth with the solid putting and scrambling required to contend. Among the players who have competed at Chapultepec, he’s third in Strokes Gained: putting and fourth in Strokes Gained: around the green. Buoyed by the confidence gained from his 72nd-hole birdie and sudden-death playoff victory at the Sony Open, the native of Brisbane has the firepower (4.25 birdies per round) to climb the leaderboard and the putting stroke to avoid the bogeys that can slip onto the card. Love this value here.
Last week: Marc Leishman (+4000). Tied for 43rd.
Collin Morikawa (+4000) — Sunday, we have a problem. Many years ago when my lovely wife and I began dating, she knew nothing about golf, and may have been better off. Early on, though, as she realized watching final-round coverage on Sunday afternoons was part of the program, she made, in between naps, an astute observation: to win on the PGA Tour, you have to play well on Sunday and at that moment I knew we might have a future together. Unfortunately, the concept has been elusive for the 23-year-old Cal graduate. His final-round scoring average in 2019-20 is 71.56 (185th on the PGA Tour), a stat amplified because he’s usually in contention, ranking 51st or better in scoring for each of the first three rounds. Morikawa has broken 70 only once in nine Sundays this season and has only two top 10s on his ledger. Until the young rising star figures out the formula, don’t waste steps walking to the betting window with his name in mind.
Last week: Justin Rose (+3500). Tied for 56th.
Webb Simpson (-120) vs. Adam Scott — A slight letdown should be expected from Scott this week and Simpson has been a machine since last summer. Here are his results: 2-2-18-24-20-7-2-10-3-1. He’s climbed to eighth in the world and is fresh after two weeks at home. He’s doing it with good old-fashioned precision iron play and world-class putting. In the best physical condition of his life, with one of the best caddies in the world in Paul Tesori on his bag and fresh off a two-week break, expect Simpson to continue his outstanding performance. I wouldn’t be surprised if Scott finishes in the top 10 as well, however, Simpson seems poised to have his best year yet.
Last week: Rory McIlroy (-130) vs. Dustin Johnson. Thanks to an 18’ 9” birdie putt on the final hole, McIlroy tied for fifth and nipped DJ by one shot, which may or may not have prompted a middle-aged man to leap off a couch somewhere in coastal North Carolina.