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WGC Mexico Championship Preview, Picks & Analysis

By: | Mon 18 Feb 2019 | Comments

TWELVE months ago, while the eyes of the world were focused on the comeback of Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson got finally his mojo back. The veteran American, without a victory anywhere since claiming The Open at Muirfield in 2013, suddenly remembered what it took as he claimed the WGC-Mexico Championship.

It signalled a welcome return to form and he would go on to claim his place in America's Ryder Cup team, albeit returning from Le Golf National without scoring a single point in a losing cause. He began to struggle, but something has happened to him during the winter and he has since added the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, storming back to overtake and leave Paul Casey trailing in his wake. 

And so Lefty returns south of the border to defend his WGC-Mexico Championship title from a world-class field in which all of the world's top are eligible to compete. Indeed, those inside the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking take most of the starting spots. You may, therefore, wonder why so many relative joruneymen end up in the fields for these so-called prestigious events - places are also reserved for  the top 30 in the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup standings and the top 20 in the Race to Dubai, which explains why the likes of David Lipsky, Cameron Champ and Aaron Rai are all eligible. Places in the field are also held for those inside the top ten in the 2019 Race to Dubai two weeks before the event, and inside the top ten in the 2019 FedEx Cup one week before the event.

Such is the global nature of WGCs that the top two players from last year’s Asian Tour, Japan Golf Tour, PGA Tour of Australasia and Sunshine Tour also qualify to compete in Mexico. Some may think that it makes a mockery of the status of the tournaments; on the other hand it offers the opportunity for somebody to have a life-changing week. After all, these are World Golf Champinonships.

Last year Mickelson eclipsed a moment of magic from Justin Thomas to beat his compatriot in a playoff. The American pair finished tied on 16 under par after an enthralling final round at Chapultepec Golf Club. Mickelson saw his birdie putt lip out at the first playoff hole – the par three 17th – but when Thomas failed to get down in two from behind the green, Mickelson secured his first victory in almost five years.

“I can't put into words how much this means to me, its been a long time as you say,” said Mickelson, who had finished fifth, second and sixth in his previous three tournaments. “To come to Mexico City with the fans here and play against the best players in the world and finally come through... I knew it was going to come soon, I was playing too well for it not to but you never know until it happens."

England's Tyrrell Hatton, who missed out on extra holes after a bogey at the last, and Spain's Rafa Cabrera Bello tied for third on 15 under. Cabrera Bello had made the first move on Sunday when he chipped in from a bunker for eagle at the first to catch overnight leader Shubhankar Sharma, of India, before the Indian had even teed off.

Cabrera Bello, Hatton and Mickelson all had spells in front but Thomas, who was 11 behind Sharma after 36 holes before carding a 62 in the third round, made six birdies in his first 15 holes to edge ahead. A bogey on the 17th looked to have ended his challenge, but Thomas spun his 120-yard approach back into the cup at the 18th to set a daunting clubhouse target with a round of 64.

Hatton joined him when he followed a birdie on the 14th with an eagle from 11 feet on the 15th, while Mickelson birdied the 15th and 16th before his 25-foot effort on the next missed by a whisker. With both needing a birdie on the last, Hatton and Mickelson miscued their approaches and Hatton was unable to get up and down, but the five-time major winner held his nerve from five feet to seal a closing 66 before a par at the first play-off hole saw him become the oldest winner of a World Golf Championships event. Sharma shot a closing 74 as the Race to Dubai leader marked his WGC debut with a tie for ninth. It has to be said that he has since gone seriously off the boil.

Mickelson became the oldest winner of a WGC event in Mexico last year, and will now look to become just the third player to successfully defend a World Golf Championship title. Tiger Woods has done so on a staggering eight different occasions.

Xander Schauffele won the most recent World Golf Championship, the 2018 WGC-HSBC Champions in China, and arrives in Mexico with a chance to join an elite group. A win for the American would make him just the third player to win consecutive WGC tournaments. Dustin Johnson did so in 2017, winning the WGC-Mexico Championship and the WGC-Dell Match Play. Woods is the only other player to win back-to-back titles, doing so five times.

China’s top golfer is already writing a place for himself in the record books and he could set another historic mark in Mexico. Li Haotong would be the youngest WGC winner in history, aged just 23 years old. If he did triumph it would come 11 days earlier than Patrick Reed’s WGC-Cadillac Championship win in 2014. Reed is also the only player to win a World Golf Championship at the first attempt. 

We have seen some historic rounds at these tournaments too, most recently a winning, final round 61 by Hideki Matsuyama at the 2017 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. In 20 years of WGCs, three players have shot 61: Tiger Woods, Sergio Garcia and Matsuyama. In the past 12 months we’ve witnessed 59s on the PGA Tour and the European Tour. A WGC 60 might not be too far away.

This tournament was originally staged at Doral and was known as the WGC Cadillac Championship but was moved to Mexico following the ownership of Donald Trump.

It was won in 2011 by Nick Watney, in 2012 by Justin Rose, in 2013 by Tiger Woods, in 2014 by Patrick Reed, in 2015 and 2017 by Dustin Johnson, in 2016 by Adam Scott and in 2018 by Mickelson. 

Scott has spent some time in the wilderness but has got back into his stride this season and is surely ready to start winning again. He has a fabulous swing, a wonderful temperament and is one of the best iron players on the planet. His struggles on the greens are well documented but it is a sign of his mental strength that he keeps bouncing back, keeps finding a way to will the ball into the hole. 

To Win:

Adam Scott. Beautiful to watch when in full flow

Each Way:

Justin Thomas. Has no weaknesses at all

Each Way:

Dustin Johnson. Is there a better driver of a golf ball anywhere?

Fantasy Picks:

Adam Scott. Confidence is back

Justin Thomas. A machine

Dustin Johnson. Dustinator is at the peak of his powers just now

Justin Rose. As consistent a player as there is right now

Phil Mickelson. Write him off at your peril

Xander Schauffele. Hugely impressive in everything he does

Li Haotong. Make no mistake - this boy can play

Tommy Fleetwood. Just desperate for a really big win

Rickie Fowler. Already a winner in 2019

Jon Rahm. Could bring this course to its knees

Image Credit: Kevin Diss Photography

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Tags: PGA Tour FedEx Cup

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