WGC-Mexico Championship: Course Insight
Strike up the mariachi music and find your favorite wide-brimmed sombrero. The second of four annual World Golf Championships takes place this week in Mexico City at Club de Golf Chapultepec, marking the first time in history a WGC event will be held in Mexico.
The WGC-Mexico Championship was most recently known as the WGC-Cadillac Championship, and was played on the infamous Blue Monster Course at Trump National Doral Miami for the last 10 years. Seven different venues have hosted this tournament since it began in 1999, when Tiger Woods won the inaugural event.
A world-class field featuring 49 of the top 50 players in the OWGR will tee it up at Chapultepec, including No. 1 Player in the World Dustin Johnson, former No. 1 players Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy, as well as defending champion Adam Scott. Jason Day was a late scratch due to illness. The no-cut, limited-field of approximately 70 players is half the size or a regular PGA Tour event, and winners of WGC-Mexico earn a three-year PGA Tour exemption.
Chapultepec is a 7,330 yard, par 71 course that first opened in 1928. It hosted the Mexican Open from 1944 through 1960, as well as four more times in the modern era after the tournament began rotating venues, most recently in 2014. Trees number in the thousands at Chapultepec which means you can expect to see more than a few errant shots ricocheting around the timber. Chapultepec might be the most forested course players see all year.
Driving accuracy and shaping the ball both ways off the tee will be required to score well. Even the slightest miss will create awkward windows and angles to the greens, and in some instances even force players to give up a stroke and just punch out. Players who do find the fairways will still be tested by elevation changes and a variety of uphill and downhill lies, putting a premium on ball-striking. Greens complexes are well protected by trees and bunkers, and putts will be fast and challenging with plenty of slope and undulation.
Distance and trajectory control will also be crucial this week because Chapultepec sits 7,870 feet (2,400 meters) above sea level. To give you a perspective, you’d have to stack the Statue of Liberty on top of itself 25 times to reach that kind of altitude. Air at higher altitudes creates less lift and drag, so balls fly farther, at lower trajectories, and land flatter with more release than normal. This generally results in carry increases of about 10% for most clubs.
Some players will undoubtedly use higher lofted drivers this week to control trajectory off the tee, and some will also play a few more shots with higher launching hybrids than they normally do throughout the season. Iron play in particular however will require ball position and angle of attack adjustments to control distances and unwanted roll out on approach shots.
Chapultepec Chairman Rodrigo Lebois said “There will be plenty of tough holes that keep the leaderboard interesting,” Some of the most challenging holes will include the big-boy, par-4, 506 yard 4th hole, the uphill par-5, 625 yard 6th hole, and the closing stretch of holes on Nos. 15, 16, and 17.
No. 4 is a downhill, dogleg left hole and the longest par-4 on the course. Drives played too far left will have no chance of even seeing the green, let alone hitting it on approach. The green slopes from back to front, and is protected by two bunkers on the right, and one on the left.
View from the approach on No. 6
No. 6 is a gargantuan, uphill, dogleg right par-5 hole that plays even longer than the stated 625 yards. It’s virtually impossible to reach the green in two strokes. Approach shots will have to carry a lake, and avoid the large tree which guards the green and waits to swat away errant shots. The green is two-tiered, relatively flat, and shots that hit the front will likely roll off the putting surface.
No.15 is the last par-5 on the course, plays entirely uphill, and meanders slightly to the right. A fairway bunker on the left cuts into almost half of the fairway, so players will either need to stay right or carry it. The green slopes from back to front, and right to left, and is fairly large. A sizeable bunker protects the backside, while two smaller bunkers flank the front left and right. Sunday pin placements tucked in the bottom right would leave players with a tough decision on whether or not to attack the flag.
GPS view of No.15 from the 18Birdies app
No.16 is a troublesome par-4 hole, largely due to two bunkers that severely pinch the fairway on both sides of the landing area. Approach shots from the right will give players a better angle into the green that’s defended by two deep bunkers on the left. This is another green with multiple levels so being on the right one is essential for any chance to one-putt.
No. 17 is the last par-3 on the course and features a flat putting surface with great opportunities for birdie if players can avoid bunkers guarding the left and right sides of the green. Pins placed on the left side of the green could bring water into play, which protects the front and left sides of the green.
Players to Watch
All aspects of the players’ game will be tested this week because of Chapultepec’s challenging layout, and also because of their unfamiliarity with the course. Key stats will include Driving Accuracy, Strokes Gained: Approach-The-Green, and Ball Striking.
Few players hit the greens at a better clip than Dustin Johnson this season. He’s in great form right now, and probably has more confidence than any time in his career. If he’s in contention on Sunday he’ll be dangerous, as he leads the Tour in final round performance. DJ’s a lock to finish top-10 unless he gets wild off the tee.
Rory McIlroy is making his 2017 Tour debut after sitting out a few months with a rib injury. McIlroy was firing on all cylinders four months ago at WGC-HSBC Champions where he finished T-4, but you have to expect some rust and a few un-Rory-like shots his first time back. It’s also fair to wonder if he’s going to be distracted by the scathing fallout that erupted on social media after his leisurely round with President Trump earlier this month. I hate to ever bet against McIlroy, but I see him struggling just to put together a top-25 finish this week.
Jordan Spieth’s all-around game is probably the best in the world right now. His driving, his iron play, his short game, even his putting has come around again. Spieth is first on Tour in Greens-In-Regulation, Strokes Gained: Approach-The-Green, and even when he makes the rare mistake around the green, he scrambles at a rate of 67.7%, good for 13th best on Tour. When you add these all together, he’s very hard to beat, as he showed at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.