WGC-Mexico Championship: Fantasy picks, power rankings and analysis
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 weekly fantasy golf picks piece — as well as a gambling picks piece — applying the expert knowledge he’s acquired over the years by following the players and courses on Tour so closely.
Most of the pre-tournament scribbling and spouting has focused on the eight top 50 players not competing in this week’s WGC- Mexico Championship, yet there’s still a stellar 67-man field competing for $10.5 million, the bucketload of FedEx Cup points, two-year exemption, cool trophy and all the other trimmings.
The real story this week, however, is math.
Because the Club de Golf Chapultepec just outside Mexico City sits at roughly 7,500 above sea level, the golf ball goes far. At least 10 percent farther. So before some fortunate caddie collects 10 percent of the winning check of $1.75 million he’s going to have four days of dealing in percentages and helping calculate accurate adjusted yardages.
A sharp pencil and another sharp pencil are imperative on a week like this where the average discussion between pro and caddie goes something like this:
“We have 180 yards actual,” the caddie might say. “Adjusted that’s 162 (minus the 10 percent for altitude). Then there’s five yards of hurting wind (now we’re up to 167) but the greens are releasing seven or eight yards and the cover on the bunker is 155 (adjusted) so we need to pitch (land our shot) 160.”
“Is that actual or adjusted?”
In all seriousness, the men in the bibs are seasoned professionals and most professional golfers even listen sometimes. Each partnership already has a formula and a process — or will quickly devise one — that enables them to gauge the distance and select the proper club.
At such an altitude, a pro golfer can hit a 5, 6 or 7-iron what seems like forever. The flatter trajectory produced by those clubs and the thin air might lead to a ball sailing over a green or two. It happens. Scrambling will be important.
Club de Golf Chapultepec is a par-71, 7,355-yard course featuring smallish, undulating greens. While the golfers hit the greens in regulation at a rate similar to the average PGA Tour event, the average proximity to the hole (31 feet) is three feet farther from the hole. Longer putts with significant break on slippery surfaces can make distance control a headache. We’ve targeted 3-putt avoidance as a key statistic this week because the average competitor 3-putts .804 times per round at Chapulpetec, compared to .544 times per round at the average PGA Tour stop.
Of course, Strokes Gained: approach the green is always important as is taking advantage of the three par 5s, two of which measure more than 600 yards.
Wait, is that adjusted?
Golfer power rankings
17. Hideki Matsuyama – He has eight top 20s in his last nine starts worldwide, including a T-5 last week at the Genesis. Not many can dominate a course tee-to-green on his level (he’s fourth in strokes gained) which enables him to overcome horrific putting (190th SG, 159th inside 10 feet, 146th 3-putt avoidance) from week-to-week.
16. Sergio Garcia – He’s 29 under the last 12 rounds at the WGC-Mexico with a T-6 last year. Has three top 10s in the last six starts worldwide. We always assume Garcia will strike the ball purely, but can his putter cooperate? He’s 57th in SG: putting in the 67-man field over the last 50 rounds.
15. Shane Lowry – Finished T-62 in his only WGC-Mexico appearance last year but The Open champion has top-15 finishes in four of the last five events worldwide. Lowry’s stats are fairly mediocre on poa annua greens in recent starts, however, his touch is world class and has the ability to hit a major hot streak with the putter at any time.
14. Louis Oosthuizen – Loves the WGC events, finishing third at the HSBC-Champions last fall. Gains more strokes against the field on poa putting surfaces than he does on other grasses. Tied for 25th here last year and has top 5s in Australia, South Africa and Abu Dhabi in the last three months.
13. Brandt Snedeker – After a T-12 in Hawaii and T-3 at Torrey Pines, missed cuts at Phoenix and one of his favorite places, Pebble Beach. Refreshed after a week off and his pop stroke flourishes on poa, leading the field in SG: around the green over the last 50 rounds. That sharp short game generated a T-7 in his last Mexico appearance in 2017.
12. Adam Scott – Starving himself from competition to remain hungry appears to be working out just fine. The affable Aussie won in Australia and California in his last two starts and would love to make it a three-country turkey. Tied for 45th in only appearance here in 2017.
11. Cameron Smith – Won earlier this year at the Sony Open and tied for sixth at WGC-Mexico last year. In his last 50 rounds on poa annua greens, he’s top 10 in SG: approach the green and SG: putting.
10. Abraham Ancer – The rising young star would love to claim his first PGA Tour victory anywhere of course, but to pull it off against an outstanding field in his native country would be special indeed. He’ll have to handle the pressure that comes with a home game and build off last year’s T-39 but has top 10s on the U.S. and European Tours in 2020.
9. Rafa Cabrera Bello – Finished tied for 17th at the Genesis and must feel good entering WGC-Mexico, where nobody in the field has been better at SG: short game and SG: putting. Tied for third here in 2018 and T-19 last year.
8. Patrick Reed – Faded after an opening 68 last week and tied for 51st. Has shown steady improvement at Chapultepec over the last three years, climbing to a T-14 in 2019. His short game sorcery should be a significant asset. The former Masters champion is second in the field in SG: around the green in his last 50 rounds on poa annua.
7. Xander Schauffele – Sluggish start ended with a pair of 69s on the weekend to produce yet another top-25 finish last week, giving him five in six starts in 2019-20. At this course he’s fired five of eight rounds in the 60s and posted a pair of top-20 finishes. Oddly, has struggled around the greens on poa, ranking 52nd in the 67-man field in strokes gained, or he’d be higher on our list.
6. Jon Rahm – Tied for third in his WGC-Mexico debut in 2017 but his performance has dipped the last two years (T-20, T-45). Not many holes in his game, hence the No. 3 world ranking. Finished T-17 last week at Riviera, his first non top 10 in four PGA Tour starts in 2020. Doesn’t mind the poa annua, ranking eighth-best in the field in SG: putting.
5. Justin Thomas – Looked out of sorts last Thursday and Friday in his premium pairing with Tiger. All of his ballstriking stats are spectacular but his putting has been suspect this season, ranking 103rd inside 10 feet and 196th from 10-15 feet. Likes the poa surfaces in Mexico City, though, finishing top 10 each of the last three years.
4. Webb Simpson – After closing with three consecutive birdies to win in Scottsdale, enjoyed two weeks at home in Charlotte with his family. Arrives in Mexico looking to climb the leaderboard after settling for T-39 and T-37 the last two years. Still, he’s been incredibly consistent over the last year or so, ranking fourth in SG: approach the green and first in SG: putting.
3. Tommy Fleetwood – Has shot in the 60s in seven of the last 12 rounds at Club de Golf Chapultepec, firing four sub-par numbers to finish second in 2017. Won in South Africa last November and posted two runner-up finishes and a T-11 in three Arabian desert starts on the European Tour. Top 30 in 3-putt avoidance outside 25 feet on Tour in 2019-20.
2. Rory McIlroy – Reclaimed world No. 1 entering last week at Riviera and probably should’ve led by four or five shots through 54 holes. Those missed opportunities and a front nine disaster Sunday dropped him to a ‘disappointing’ tie for fifth, which reveals the immense talent McIlroy possesses. He’s 26 under in eight rounds at the WGC-Mexico, finishing a distant second to DJ last year.
1. Dustin Johnson – Returns to the site of his last victory, hoping to build upon the flashes of progress he’s shown the last two weeks (three rounds of 67 or better, top 10 at Riviera). He’s 37 under at Chapultepec the last three years with a pair of victories. Led the field in GIR when he won here in 2019. This season he’s 212th on Tour.