The PGA Tour heads to Mexico City this week for the WGC-Mexico Championship. A small but strong contingent of players will tee it up at Club De Golf Chapultepec, and here are five things you need to know about the first World Golf Championship of the year.
Inside the Field
Seven of the top 10 players in the OWGR are in the field, including defending champion and World No. 1 Dustin Johnson, World No. 2 Jon Rahm, and World No. 3 Justin Thomas. Johnson is the only player to win all four WGCs, and can become only the second player in history to win this event three times (Tiger Woods won seven times between 1999 and 2013). Rahm has two top-3 finishes in four career WGC appearances, including a T-3 finish here last year. Thomas comes on a torrid pace with seven wins in his last 31 starts – good for a Tigeresque 23-percent winning percentage and is poised to pick up his first WGC victory after a career-best T-5 finish last year.
This is the Coors Field of PGA Tour Venues
Chapultepec plays at an altitude of almost 7,400 feet, which means players can expect to see a 13-to-15 percent increase in carry distance. Don’t be fooled into thinking that makes this par-71, 7,276-yard track a bombers paradise. Narrow, tree-lined fairways will negate any distance advantages for those loose off the tee. The thinner air will make shots fly further but also lower, making it more difficult to stop approaches on the green. Last year was the first time this event was played at Chapultepec, and it played as the second toughest course up to that point in the season with only 37 players in the 77-man, no-cut field finishing under par.
Plenty of Opportunities for Scoring on Par-4s
Hole no. 2 at Club de Golf Chapultepec
Six par-4s at Chapultepec are under 410 yards. That should give players an incentive to not risk using driver off the tee. However, because the air is less dense at this higher altitude it will impart less force on the ball, making it harder to shape shots. Four of these six, short par-4 holes feature doglegs: Nos. 1, 2, 9, and 18, and will separate great ball strikers from mediocre ones. Conversely, on holes that require a straight first shot off the tee (No. 12), staying out of trouble will be less challenging because the air density makes it easier to keep it between the pipes. Chapultepec surrendered 77 hole outs last year – the most in any WGC stroke play event.
Par-5s are not Easy
Two of the three par-5s are over 600 yards long and almost impossible to reach in two. No. 6 plays uphill and requires three perfectly positioned shots to reach the green. A large bunker protects the right side of the fairway off the tee, a large tree must be avoided on second shots, and approaches into the green are guarded by a lake and three greenside bunkers. No. 11 plays downhill and is slightly shorter, however, proper positioning off the tee and into the green are crucial. A tree and bunker cover the right side of the fairway on second shots, and on approach, trees and two bunkers cover the right side of the green.
Greens are the Main Defense
Greens at Chapultepec are fast and firm, with tricky undulations – particularly on the back-nine. Severe speeds and slopes will put a premium on keeping the ball below the hole and remaining patient on these Bentgrass/Poa putting surfaces. Some greens feature complicated undulations on all sides, like on No. 3 which will challenge even the best putters. Other greens feature even more pronounced slopes and actually appear wavy, No. 10, which make it very difficult to identify breaks. Chipping to correct levels will be all-important, as multiple levels on greens, the 15 and 16 holes, can bring three-putts into play in a hurry.
Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, and Rickie Fowler are all feasting on par-4s this season, ranked second, third, and fourth respectively in Par 4 Scoring Average. Spieth and Fowler are finding fairways off the tee significantly more than Johnson. However, in DJ’s victory here last year he used driver less than a handful of times each round. Playing on a course that allows Johnson to club down makes him a fairway and green finding machine. Throw in the fact that Johnson’s performance on poa annua greens is nothing short of outstanding, and he’s ranked third in Strokes Gained: Around the Green this season, and that makes me believe he’s practically unbeatable this week.