A poor week last week with no returns and only Luke List really threatening to do anything after Kennedy went out in the 2nd round of the knock-out stage in Perth. List putted atrociously though and I counted 9 putts inside 7ft that he missed across the 4 rounds. I don’t think I’ll be backing him again in a hurry.
2019 points advised = 78.5
2019 points returned = 37.5
The first WGC of the season heads down to Mexico for the 3rd edition of this at Chapultepec, Nauculpan. Much like the first two years several of the world’s best have decided to give it a miss but we still have a very strong field of 72 to get stuck into. Both previous champions return with 2017 winner Dustin Johnson in average form by his standards but defending champion Mickelson returns in fine fettle having won at Pebble just two starts ago.
The 7330 yard, par 71 course was designed by two Scottish brothers, Willie and Alex Smith from Carnoustie, around the time when Scots were very much the talking point of US golf in the early 1900s. Donald Ross was at the fore front of that and he himself had links to Carnoustie with the first 3 club professionals at his East Lake design all hailing from the Angus town. The course certainly doesn’t look unlike some of Ross’ tree-lined courses in the US like East Lake and Sedgefield. Further course links include Crans which hosts the European Masters as it is at a similar altitude to the Mexico course. Woburn is another short tree-lined course that ties in with Crans while the Sauranja course in Malaysia which hosts the Maybank Championship is visually similar and has some cross-over form through a few players.
Stats wise Mickelson’s long game wasn’t exactly brilliant last year as he only ranked 60th in total driving and 25th in GIR but his short game was as strong as ever. He was 2nd in scrambling and 3rd in putting as he showed his love for slick poa annua surfaces. The 1st and 2nd ranked putters finished 2nd and 3rd respectively. The year before DJ’s long game was a little better ranking 5th for GIR and 17th for total driving but his short game was also razor-sharp as he was 14th for scrambling and 5th in total putting.
Another thing of great interest is how important current form has been in both the Mexico events but also going back to Doral too. Four of the last six winners had already won that season while Mickelson came in with form figures of 5-2-6 last year and in 2015 DJ had finished 2nd at Riviera and 4th at Pebble Beach. I wouldn’t be expecting anyone to find their game from nowhere this week.
Given that strong cases can be made for the top 10 or so in the betting and they are all trading low enough I’m happier to chase the place money this week. It can almost be a guessing game which one of the elite are going to turn up on any given week and guessing at odds of 12/1 isn’t a lot of fun especially with so many of them having played a lot of golf already in California. In both editions so far we have seen some lesser names on the leaderboard and with that in mind I’ve got three outsiders at bigger odds. I’ve focussed on 3 main things, decent current form, a liking for tree-lined layouts and an excellent short game (be it scrambling or putting but preferably both!)
First up is Hao-Tong Li who has been playing at a seriously high level for some 6 months now. Going back to October his world-wide form reads 2-12-MC-30-5-2-11-9-5 and that missed cut was returning from an 8 week Christmas break. The 11th was at the previous WGC in Shanghai and he has the perfect game for championship layouts. He is a sneaky long driver and regularly gets it out past the 300 yard mark off the tee. When playing well his approaches are usually quite reliable but lately it has been his short game that has been on fire. On his last start in Saudi he ranked 1st in scrambling and 1st in putting finding only Dustin Johnson too good and beating Bryson by 6. He looks as assured holing out from inside 8ft as anyone in the game and that confidence will help him on these slick poa annua greens. We saw last week at Riviera the carnage that can ensue with fast, undulating poa annua greens and I think his flat stick prowess can help him go well this week. He only managed 63rd last year but a second look will be a big plus point for him. Li also has some form at a key course in Malaysia which hosts the Maybank Championship. Sharma won there last year and Zanotti the year before and they both would finish top 10 here in Mexico a few weeks later. Li was 5th there in 2017 on the tree-lined course with fiddly greens. Li looks comfortable in these elite fields and I think he is one to watch in the big events this year. I’m having an each way bet at 66/1 and also top 20 @ 5/2.
Shane Lowry’s Abu Dhabi win has been quickly forgotten about if the market is anything to go by. Lowry missed the cut at Pebble since then but he is a player who likes to enjoy himself and while he spent the first few weeks of the year grinding hard on his game, I’m sure he would have enjoyed celebrating his win too. I’d expect him to arrive in Mexico fully refocussed though and looking to join an elite group of just 14 players to have won multiple WGCs. It was his putting that he hadn’t been happy with as it had been letting him down the last couple of years. But the hard work paid off as he ranked 3rd on the greens in Abu Dhabi. His long game has been as solid as ever and he has plenty form on narrow tree-lined courses. Lowry should really have won at Wentworth already (six Top 15s), he was 2nd at Woburn while the highlight of his career was at Firestone when he won the WGC Bridgestone. He looks a very solid each way bet at 80/1.
Kiradech Aphibarnrat showed his suitability to the course last year when he finished 5th and I don’t see any good reason why he can’t have a good week again. The Thai is one of those erratic drivers who seems to be helped by playing on tree-lined fairways. It seems to either help him from a visual point of view or temper his aggressive play but either way a lot of his best results have come on courses with difficult driving lines. He was 5th at Woburn in 2015 and also 5th at Wentworth. He led the field for scrambling here last year and while he comes in off 3 missed cuts from his last 4 I think he will be more comfortable away from mainland U.S. He has been struggling to find his feet so far on the PGA Tour as he looks to try to gain his full PGA Tour card but he hasn’t played too much in California to date so I’m not overly worried by that. He finished his 2018 season well with a 4th in the elite field WGC HSBC and then 9th at the DP World Tour Championship. Looks a little over priced considering 4 of the top 10 in 2017 returned to record another top 10 last year, suggesting that having played here before might be a big advantage.
Nothing in Puerto Rico but I thought Amy Yang looked a little bit over priced (28/1) in the Honda LPGA Thailand. Yang loves the course and already at 29 years old she boasts course form of 14-1-3-1-45-12-4-7-10. She hasn’t missed a cut since June and with a lot of the bigger names not fully wound up yet this is a good chance for her to get her 4th LPGA win at a course she excels on.
Summary of bets
Hao-Tong Li – 0.75pt ew @ 80/1 and 2pts Top 20 @ 5/2
Shane Lowry – 0.75pt ew @ 80/1 and 2pts Top 20 @ 5/2
Kiradech Aphibarnrat – 0.5pt ew @ 200/1 and 2pts Top 20 @ 11/2
(all 1/5 odds 6 places general)
Honda LPGA Thailand
Amy Yang – 1pt ew @ 28/1 (1/4 odds 5 places)
Weekly points advised = 12