The Shag Bag – WGC Mexico Championship

Photo by Michele Sandberg/Icon Sportswire

Get ready for the unknown. There is as much uncertainty surrounding this week in golf as there are Z-packs in the Day household. Sadly, Jason Day’s withdrawal will make the golf world wait for the perfect field, but there is enough intrigue surrounding the first big tournament of 2017 to fill the void left by Day’s absence. The World Golf Championships now have another international destination, for a tournament that has been played in Spain, England and Ireland prior to the last decade in southern Florida. The game has delivered marquee winners almost every week. Time to throw them all together and duke it out!

The Course – Club de Golf Chapultepec is as famous in Mexico as it is unknown to golf fans scrambling to pronounce it. Did you know that Ben Crenshaw and Jay Haas won Mexico Opens there? It was built during the Mexican Revolution and then overhauled in 1972. At 7,330 yards, this par 71 is actually really short. Why? Elevation. At about 7,700 feet above sea level, it will be higher than any stop on Tour by far. To put that elevation in perspective, Castle Pines GC, the famous PGA Tour spot that once hosted the Stableford-scoring International, is only 6,400 feet above sea level. The ball will carry… a lot. Given the age of the property, each hole is tree lined and rather dense.

Last YearAdam Scott won the final installment of the short-lived ‘New Doral’ experiment. It wrapped a decade at the Blue Monster, but the distaste by players of the redesign was more than a little evident. Scott’s win was his second in a row, and he became the second-highest earner in this tournament behind Tiger Woods. He joined a who’s-who list of winners over the past 10 years, with Woods, Ernie Els, Justin Rose, Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson all winning.

This Year – Everybody has a chance! Or, do they? The biggest knock on the redesigned Doral was that it eliminated everybody but the biggest hitters on the planet. Agree or disagree, nobody is arguing that a change in venue will tighten the field. The best in the world, however, are winning. The last four PGA Tour winners are all ranked in the top 10 in the world. Golf is currently in a boom of elite players. Bring them all together and you expect an elite winner.
That could include Rory McIlroy, who returns from a fractured rib to play this week. He will likely shrug off questions about his round of golf with President Trump, but the questions will quickly turn to his health and form. Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth are the hottest two players in the world and rested.

The Field – A double ear infection and flu has sidelined Jason Day, ruining the first chance in 2017 to see all 50 of the world’s top players in one tournament. In total, 77 players will be on site in Mexico City. There are 14 first-time participants in this event, including six who have never teed it up in a WGC event before. That includes Roberto Diaz, who will be the fan favorite in Mexico City. One spot was reserved for the highest ranked Mexican player, an honor Diaz earned in hard luck fashion, losing to the miracle Ethan Tracy hole out at the Tour’s Club Colombia Championship.

Weather – Perfect conditions will greet the players this week, with winds diminishing from fresh on Thursday to light on Saturday. There is a high chance of rain on Sunday, with temperatures hovering in the middle 70s. At over a mile above sea level, humidity levels are low, so expect a lot of pop all week.

Holes to Watch – Without much modern measurement of the course, why not focus on where it will all begin? The first hole is just 316 yards (only about 280, factoring in altitude), but it is heavily protected. A narrow par 4 with a slight dogleg right at the green, it is also surrounded by bunkers. How players attack this hole may shed light on what can be done on the rest of the course, which is narrow in parts and tree lined.

Celebrar El Golf – Much is made about the uniqueness of this stop, but golf in Mexico is no stranger. While most associate the best golf with the resort towns (many thought this event would wind up in Cabo San Lucas), having it in the most populous city will provide even more flavor. Grupo Salinas, a group of various corporations, invested in this tournament for seven years. How the players are treated, how good the golf is and what exposure Mexico City receives are all things to track.

Top Heavy – Forget four straight, six of the last eight winners to start the year are top 10 players! Golf is delivering dominating performances each week. Spieth, Johnson and Rickie Fowler have eaten pressure for breakfast the last three Sundays and delivered a drama-free stroll. It’s no different than the last few majors, only with two golfers dueling it out. That’s what fans expect this week.

Championship Pedigree – Hard to pinpoint what will win this week, but early returns from those on the ground say that the scoring will be low, perhaps with a winner pushing well beyond 20-under. That normally means you need guys who can wedge it close and convert with the putter. Birdies and more birdies, please. The top eight on Tour in making birdies: Justin Thomas, Spieth, Hideki Matsuyama, Anirban Lahiri, Russell Knox, Phil Mickelson, Justin Rose and Jon Rahm.

Top Five –

Dustin Johnson – DJ has quickly become more than just a one-trick pony. That trick is still his greatest weapon, but he is scoring after mashing it. On the surface, this tournament may not be the perfect fit for him, but what golf course isn’t a fit for a player who is certainly deserving of the top ranking. The golfing world currently resides in his era, and this top spot is safe until something happens to question that.

Jordan Spieth – The player most likely to overtake Johnson this season as the best appears to be Spieth. He is on a collision course with redemption at Augusta, and is doing nothing to remove him from Masters favorite. He wasn’t a factor at Riviera (nobody other than DJ was), but was riding a win hangover and three straight weeks. He doesn’t own a WGC win. Time to check off another box.

Brendan Steele – He made a 9 last week in his opening round at the Honda Classic, followed it up with a double bogey in the water and then finished tied for 14th. He hasn’t missed a cut this season on the PGA Tour, has risen to being a top 50 player, and could probably use a rest break, so why not empty the tank this week and keep the hot play going?

Tyrrell Hatton – He looked completely befuddled by Bermuda grass throughout a weekend at Honda and still finished tied for fourth behind Fowler. He hasn’t finished outside of the top 25 in any worldwide event since his breakthrough win at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship last fall. He is a precision player on the ultimate heater right now, and will have a mainstream breakthrough sometime this year. He is the 2016 version of Danny Willett.

Sergio Garcia – The tie for 14th last weekend was disappointing, and you could see it in his face. He expected better. You could also see him fighting to get the most out of it. His putter is not cooperating since winning last month, which may hurt this week, but it feels like Sergio is all-in on making 2017 the best season of his career.

One-and-Done Fantasy Consideration (if you can only take a player once all season) – This author is in a funk, choosing Russell Knox and his MC last week over the rally from Steele. This week, there is no cut. Everybody gets paid. There is no ultimate risk here. Hatton isn’t a bad investment. Justin Rose had last week off and has three top four finishes this year. He should have made the top five list above, but there were more salivating choices. Safety dance!

Fantasy Tip – There are so many unknowns that it makes it impossible to really handicap this field. If you believe the intel discussed above, you can statistically weed out some golfers, but don’t let anybody fool you by saying they know what will happen. The best players in the world will be there near the end. After that? Find form. Who is guaranteed to always give you good golf? Here are the top six golfers in consecutive cuts made on the PGA Tour:
Adam Scott – 24
Patrick Reed – 17
Jordan Spieth – 16
Brendan Steele – 13
Sean O’Hair – 12
Justin Rose – 10

Those streaks don’t equate to sensational play, per se, but it means those players always perform above the mean. That average standard is higher in a deep field, but they should be able to rise above it. (Bet you didn’t see O’Hair coming on that list – keep him in mind for next week in Tampa for sure!)

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