WGC Mexico Championship Preview, Picks & Analysis
DUSTIN JOHNSON collects World Golf Championship titles for fun – five of them to date, and counting. And he arrives in Mexico as the favourite to successfully defend his WGC Mexico Championship title, one of two that he added to his collection last season.
The Dustinator was enjoying a purple patch 12 months ago, winning three tournaments on the spin. Until 2016, it was known as the WGC CA Championship and was staged at Doral’s Blue Monster course, which is owned by none other than President Donald Trump. The president is, of course, a controversial figure but is a man who loves golf with a passion. However, after a recording was made public of him expressing offensive views, the decision was taken to move the event to Mexico. Trump was not happy, but it proved to be a huge success, with huge crowds turning up 12 months ago to watch Johnson beat Tommy Fleetwood by a single shot at Club de Golf Chapultepec, near Mexico City.
Tiger Woods has won seven times, with his last success coming back in 2013. It was won in 2011 by Nick Watney, in 2012 by Justin Rose, in 2014 by Patrick Reed, in 2015 by Johnson and in 2016 by Australia’s Adam Scott. Bubba Watson has also finished second on three occasions.
There will be a strong European challenge, led by Spain’s Jon Rahm, who finished in a tie for third last year. It seems that the Spaniard can do nothing wrong. He has contended almost every time he has teed up the ball since turning professional in the summer of 2016 and won three times in 2017. He has yet to contend in a major, but that will surely come before very much longer. Rahm has already proved that he can win on different types of courses and that he can cope with bad weather – as proved by his performance at the Irish Open, when he left a star-studded cast trailing in his wake.
Rahm has a powerful compact golf swing and it would be all to easy to think that he is just another bomber. And yes, he does hit the golf ball an awful long way but, like so many Spaniards, he is blessed with the touch of an angel on and around the greens. If Rahm has a weakness, it is his temperament. He sets incredibly high standards for himself and when he fails to meet them everybody knows about it. Seve Ballesteros and Jose Maria Olazabal, Spain’s greatest golfing exports to date, were exactly the same. You could always tell by their demeanour whether they were on the way to a 64 or a 74, and Rahm plays the same way. But something else they have in common is the ability to stand over the next shot and eliminate all thoughts of what had happened before.
Another European who is probably as talented as Rahm is the Belgian, Thomas Pieters. Just like Rahm, Pieters possesses an explosive temperament. Unlike Rahm, he lets things fester and unless he can find a way to get beyond that he may never fulfil his massive potential. Pieters has also made some strange decisions concerning his playing schedule. The 26-year-old only played in 10 regular European Tour events in 2017 as he tried to balance life between his home tour and the PGA Tour.
He has three victories to his name on the European Tour but there is no doubt that this is a man who has the game to win anywhere. He was the star of Europe’s beaten Ryder Cup team in 2016 and there is a perception that he really hasn’t kicked on. Pieters, however, will point to a fourth place at The Masters, fifth here, fourth at the WGC Bridgestone Invitational and second at the Genesis Open as proof that he knows exactly what he is doing. There is a small group of world-class European golfers who have been able to successfully juggle the demands of tournament golf on both sides of the Atlantic but the thing with Pieters is that his game is made for America. He hits the ball a mile and he does so with a high ball flight and most pundits agree that if he focused on the PGA Tour then he would quickly be winning tournaments for fun. This is a man who should be ranked in the top 10. Time alone will tell whether his approach is the right one.
Justin Rose is a man that Pieters should talk to, one of that group to master life on both tours after an incredibly trying start to his professional career. A prolific money winner, Rose came within a whisker of winning The Masters, losing in a playoff to Sergio Garcia, and he performed well in the FedEx Cup Playoffs without managing to get across the winning line. He then flew to China, where he took advantage of an extraordinary final-round collapse by Dustin Johnson to win the WGC HSBC Champions in Shanghai, and followed that with a stunning victory in the Turkish Airlines Open. All of a sudden, he was breathing down the neck of Race to Dubai leader Fleetwood. And then Rose headed off to Dubai for the season-ending Dubai World Championship and looked like he was going to win that too before struggling in the final round. He eventually came up short and Fleetwood was crowned Race to Dubai champion.
But that run of form did wonders for Rose, who has taken it into the new season.
Dustin Johnson. If he is at his best he wins. Simple as that
Jon Rahm. Now challenging Johnson at top of the rankings
Matt Kuchar. Always there or thereabouts
Dustin Johnson. A winning machine
Jon Rahm. Hugely impressive golfer
Matt Kuchar. The top-10 machine
Tommy Fleetwood. Looking to go one better than last year
Thomas Pieters. Class act
Justin Thomas. Always there or thereabouts
Jason Day. Welcome return to form
Xander Schauffele. Hugely impressive young golfer
Justin Rose. Has been in great form since November
Tyrrell Hatton. Looking for a big week on the world stage
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