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Opinion & Analysis

Fantasy Preview: 2018 WGC-Mexico Championship

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The first World Golf Championship of 2018 gets underway this week from just outside Mexico City, as Club de Golf Chapultepec welcomes an elite limited field. The course itself measures more than 7,300 yards, but because of its high altitude it plays far shorter. The heavily tree-lined course makes it imperative to be accurate off the tee this week, and the small undulating greens will mean whoever is to triumph will need to display a very polished short game.

There is a sense that the longer hitters still have a distinct advantage this week, as last year we saw the bombers on Tour have the luxury of taking iron off the tee on the majority of holes. It was Chapultepec’s debut on the PGA Tour, and World No. 1 Dustin Johnson held his nerve to post 14-under par and hold off Tommy Fleetwood to win by one stroke.

Selected Tournament Odds (via Bet365)

  • Dustin Johnson 6/1
  • Justin Thomas 8/1
  • Jon Rahm 12/1
  • Jordan Spieth 12/1
  • Tommy Fleetwood 18/1
  • Rickie Fowler 18/1
  • Justin Rose 20/1

With a limited field and only last year’s event to guide us in regard to course history, it makes it a challenge to identify the best value of the week…. but the cream often rises to the top in these events. World Golf Championships have been dominated lately by Dustin Johnson, who has won four of the last nine. From the other five, there has only been one winner who was ranked outside the Top-10 in the Official World Golf Rankings the week of the event: Justin Rose (13th) at the WGC-HSBC Champions in November.

There isn’t much that Jordan Spieth (12/1, DK Price $10,500) has yet to achieve in the world of golf, but a WGC is one. Spieth has had a slow beginning to 2018, but there was a huge improvement at the Genesis Open two weeks ago. Now, having regained his touch on the greens at that event, this may be the week that the Texan ends his winless streak. Spieth’s struggles with the flat stick at the opening few events of the year scuppered any chance he had at getting into contention. But at the Genesis Open, he had his best putting display since the Northern Trust back in August. Speaking after the Genesis, he sounded very bullish about the progress he had made.

“I just made some tremendous progress,” Spieth said. “I putted extremely well this week, which is awesome. I feel great about the state of my game going forward — feel like I’m in a great place at this time of the year as we’re starting to head into major season.”

With confidence on the greens, Spieth is always a dangerous prospect, and the rest of his game looks ready to get himself into the thick of things come Sunday. He ranks 11th in this field for Strokes Gained Approaching the Green and fourth for Strokes Gained Tee to Green over his last 24 rounds. With the smaller-than-usual greens in play this week, it’s going to be vital for players to scramble when they inevitably do miss a few more greens than usual. There is arguably nobody better in this regard than Spieth, who sits first in this field for Strokes Gained Around the Green over his last 24 rounds.

Spieth won last year at Pebble Beach, which is also a course that has some of the smallest greens on Tour, and the small greens here can only enhance his chances. He should also be able to lean on his third round here last year, where he shot a course-record 63. In my mind, Spieth has a far greater chance of bagging his first win of 2018 than his price of 12/1 suggests.

My second pick for the week also possesses a fine short game, although it deserted him last week. Rickie Fowler’s (18/1, DK Price $9,800) defense of the Honda Classic last week was disastrous. He failed to find any spark, which resulted in him having the weekend off. Despite this, I think the bookmakers have overreacted slightly and he is a little undervalued. After all, he played very well in Phoenix after missing the cut the week before at The Farmers.

Fowler finished T16 at this event last year, but there were many signs that this could be a course that is kind to Rickie in the coming years. With the altitude being such a big factor, it can often be difficult for players to gauge the distances on their approaches. That wasn’t an issue for Rickie last year, who adjusted excellently. Fowler was second only to Dustin Johnson in both Strokes Gained Approaching the Green and Proximity to the Hole.

On a course where missing the fairway carries a substantial penalty, it’s a good sign that Fowler is 18th on the PGA Tour for Hit Fairway Percentage, ahead of any of the men at the top of the market. While considering he is one of the most consistent putters on Tour, it should be no surprise that Fowler ranks third in this field for Strokes Gained Short Game. The Californian has four wins on the PGA Tour thus far, two of them coming after he had missed the cut the previous week. He is worth backing to do it once more at an attractive price.

My third pick for this week comes from deep in the market. Jason Dufner (80/1, DK Price $7,500) has been impressive to date in 2018, finishing in the Top-20 in three of his four starts. Surprisingly, the quality that has lead to his good form is his putting. Dufner has never been known for his prowess on the greens, yet this season he is 15th on the PGA Tour for Strokes Gained Putting.

Dufner played well here last year, where he finished T23. For an excellent ball striker, Chapultepec should be a good fit. The Ohio native ranks 14th in this field for Strokes Gained Off the Tee, and 11th in Strokes Gained Total over his last 12 rounds. At 80/1, he seems a tad undervalued. It’s worth taking a chance on adding him to some DraftKings lineups in the hopes he can continue his consistent run of good form.

Recommended Plays

  • Jordan Spieth 12/1, DK Price $10,500
  • Rickie Fowler 18/1, DK Price $9,800
  • Jason Dufner 80/1, DK Price $7,500
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Gianni is the Assistant Editor at GolfWRX. He can be contacted at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @giannimosquito

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Flatstick Focus

Flatstick Focus: Interview with Joe Legendre – Legend Golf Company

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In Episode 26 Glenn is back and we interview the owner of Legend Golf Company, Joe Legendre.

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Podcasts

The 19th Hole Episode 141: The (golf) show must go on!

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Host Michael Williams has breaking news on The PGA Merchandise Show going virtual in 2021 from Marc Simon of PGA Golf Exhibitions. Also features John Buboltz with the latest putters and irons from Argolf.

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Opinion & Analysis

Barney Adams: Ball rollback isn’t the right move to combat “The Golfer of Tomorrow”

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The announcing crew at the 2020 U.S. Open seemed obsessed with “the bombers”—players who drove the ball extreme distances with little regard for the occasional tee shot into the rough. TV has selected Bryson DeChambeau as their representative, given his length and victory.

I thought I’d wait a bit to see what the industry sources had to say. I can’t say it’s unanimous, because I haven’t seen everything, but the theme is: “Get Ready for The Golfer of Tomorrow”

  • 350-yard carry
  • Clubhead speed which tears through the rough allowing the ball to launch high and carry to the green
  • The ‘new’ instructor who teaches distance be it ground up or whatever new method is used
  • Gym sessions producing athletes who look more like football players
  • And last, a whole new shelf of steroids for golf

At the same time the USGA and its organizational allies are planning meetings focusing on not if the ball will be rolled back, but when—clearly, influenced by visual evidence from a great Winged Foot course in our national championship.

Let’s look deeper!

A hypothetical: go back a few months. You are on the planning committee for the U.S. Open to be held at Winged Foot, one of America’s great venues. This year because of COVID-19 there will be no galleries, something never experienced at a USGA major golf event. I repeat, your committee is planning for the U.S. Open. That implies “Open Rough” a term that is significant on its own. You don’t play from Open Rough, you escape…maybe.

The nature of Open Rough is a thick chunky base with long tendrils reaching skyward. These make it very difficult to find your ball in the best of circumstances and when attempting to advance these tendrils wrap themselves around your hosel closing the face, sending your ball deeper into hostile territory. That’s if you can even find it, Open rough has “disappeared” many balls over the years and done so within full view of gallery spectators aiding course marshals. The rule of thumb for competitors has always been to find the most reasonable patch of fairway and get out.

But this is the year of COVID-19. No galleries. Marshals, but relatively few because of no galleries. Now, considering that normal U.S. Open rough will produce many searches where marshals are important, the shortage of them will cause endless searches—which don’t make for great TV viewing. So, a decision is made, cut the rough down so shots can be found. Still in the rough but sitting on the chunky base and very often can be played. A tough call for the purist but an objective economic evaluation leaves no choice.

The announcers regale us with astonishing distances and swing speeds that allow escape from Open Rough that used to be impossible! The golf publications jump on this theme and predict that the Golfer of Tomorrow will be “DeChambeau-like” not sweet swingers but physical hulks rewriting the book on distance strongly influenced by no fear of the rough.

My point here is those publications and instructors, jumping on the “longer and slightly crooked is better” bandwagon have added 2+2 and gotten 5 when using the 2020 U.S. Open as a premise.

DeChambeau is a great and powerful player, however, I don’t think he’s known for his putting. Now I may have dozed off but I don’t remember him being widely praised for his putting. He should have been, it was terrific, probably influenced his score! He is our National Champion, an unsurpassable honor. But his style has me betting that the USGA is working on dates to discuss changing the golf ball, as in making it shorter.

I’m 100% against such a move. Golf is a game where amateurs can go to the same course play the same clubs and given a huge difference in skill achieve some measure of affiliation with the pros. A birdie is a birdie, not a long or short ball birdie. From a business perspective, the overwhelming majority of those golfers financially supporting golf are over 50. And we want them to hit it shorter?

Well, Mr. Adams what would you do? I know zero about golf ball manufacturing, but keeping the distance the same I’d change the dimples to increase curvature—just enough so it doesn’t affect slower swings that much but very high swing speeds so it’s in the player’s head

More thoughts. As an admitted TV viewer, get rid of those yardage books. Fine for practice rounds but when the bell rings it should be player and caddie, not an “on green” conference. What’s next, a staff meeting?

I’ll conclude with a note to the PGA Tour and, importantly, an admonition. To the PGA Tour: The minute a tee goes into the ground on #1 every player is on the clock. Stroke penalties, not fines, will get their attention.

To the rest of the golfing world: Let’s not blindly pursue the Golfer of Tomorrow concept without considerably deeper study.

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