The West Coast Swing on the 2019 PGA Tour schedule is complete and prior to kicking off the Florida Swing, we take a trip down to Mexico City and Club de Golf Chapultepec for the first World Golf Championship of the season. This is the third trip to Chapultepec, a seven year agreement between The Tour and the venue, that will have the championship being played here through 2023.
The championship features a limited field of basically the top 72 players in the world rankings and there is no 36-hole cut. Automatic qualifiers; Justin Rose, Jason Day, Adam Scott, and J.B. Holmes have decided not to attend while Adam Hadwin, Si Woo Kim, and Brandt Snedeker have turned down invitations to compete.. and it is worth noting, Tiger Woods is playing this week. It will be his first time playing the course.
The golf course is a tree-lined Par 71 that has been around for over 90-years. It stretches to 7,345-yards in length but it will play much shorter than that because we are at elevation this week of over 7,500-feet. It is generally considered a 10 percent difference in length due to the elevation, meaning a 7,345-yard course will play more like a 6610-yard course at sea level. The surfaces are just like we had last week at Riviera Country Club – Kikuyu Grass fairways and a combination of Poa Annua and Bent Grass on the greens.
While the turf species are identical, the Chapultepec golf course handicap is not exactly the same as it is at Riviera. One would think that because of the elevation, the bombers would have a huge advantage here but it is not entirely the case. Accuracy off of the tee is important due to the heavily wooded areas lining the fairways. Many of the players will employ a three-wood or irons off of the tee, still producing good length in the thin air but also prioritizing keeping their ball in the play and out of the trees. The greens have a great deal of undulation, so not only is hitting them in regulation is important but also hitting them in the most advantageous quadrants. It is a bit ironic, playing at a course at which the ball will travel for miles, that it really is the short game where the tournament is won. Every player in the field ought to have a fair amount of success getting their ball into the fairway off of the tee and the ability to do so with good distance but it is after this where the game begins. Greens in Regulation, Hole Proximity, Strokes Gained: Approach, Scrambling, and Putting should ultimately decide this championship.
Full Tournament Head to Head Match Up
Kevin Kisner (+110) over Branden Grace This will be Grace’s 5th week in a row of playing and the last two weeks at Pebble Beach and Riviera have been grueling with weather and the delays because of it. While Grace could experience fatigue in this week’s altitude, Kisner has been playing a couple of weeks at a time and then taking a week off, which he did last week, so he comes in here fresh. Per what is required at this course, Kisner has the far superior short game of the two. Both players have competed in each of the two prior WGC Mexico editions. Grace has finished 30-32 to Kisner’s 29-11. I’ll take the underdog, who I believe should be a small favorite.
A Favorite, Two Contenders, and a Long Shot
Justin Thomas (10-1) Thomas was 2nd here last year, losing in a playoff to Phil Mickelson and 5th in 2017. He finished 2nd last week at Riviera. He leads The Tour in Strokes Gained: Approach, is 38th in Strokes Gained: Putting, and 62nd in Scrambling. It’s a short price but it may not be short enough as he is emerging as a real horse for this course. Coming off of a disappointing Sunday at Riviera, I expect him to bounce back and contend yet again.
Marc Leishman (30-1) Being from Australia, Leishman is very familiar with Kikuyu and Poa Annua and it showed up last week with his 4th place finish at Riviera. And it was at Riviera where we saw his short game flourish. For the week, he was 4th in Strokes Gained: Approach and 10th in Strokes Gained: Putting. He ranks 5th and 16th in those categories on Tour respectively and is also 5th in Scrambling.
Webb Simpson (30-1) This will be Simpson’s 2nd time playing here after finishing 37th last year. He is 2nd on Tour in Strokes Gained: Approach, 69th in Putting, and 4th in Scrambling. He already has two Top 10 finishes this season and six straight Top 20’s.. and he comes in off of two weeks rest.
Kevin Kisner (100-1) Kisner took 11th in his debut at Chapultepec and finished 29th last year. He comes in off of two straight Top 30 finishes and a week of rest after skipping Riviera. His strength has always been the short game, ranking 45th on Tour in Scrambling and 37th in Strokes Gained: Putting. In a field of just 72-players, one of the best short games in the world, at a course that demands such, would seem to have a better chance than 100-1.
Sign up here to get your FREE edition of Point Spread Weekly from VSIN.