There’s a sense that the current golf season is starting to heat up, particularly as a number of elite-level players begin to hit top form. Ulsterman Rory McIlroy recently secured a third successful top-five finish at the Genesis Open, while Tiger Woods also came good in the final round of the tournament to tie for 15th on six-under overall.
With this in mind, a number of players will enter the upcoming WGC-Mexico Championship with a genuine sense of optimism, especially as tournaments of this status are usually won by a top contender.
Even during the 2018 iteration of this tournament, Phil Mickleson beat Justin Thomas in a thrilling final round that wowed spectators. But who are the key contenders this year, and who is likely to come out on top?
Why There’s an Eclectic Feel to the WGC
While the WGC is one of four annual world championships in the sport, it’s considered to be a largely unique and eclectic tournament.
To begin with, the tournament has worn various guises since its inception in 1999, during which we’ve seen a number of inspiring underdog performances. The 2017 championship saw 200/1 shot Tommy Fleetwood claim a runner-up position as his breakthrough season in the sport, while emerging stars like Brian Harman and Cabrera Bello have also made their mark in recent tournaments.
There’s also the fact that the Club de Golf Chapultepec course in Naucalpan is almost 8,000 feet above sea level, while its sloping greens and stooping bunkers look a little more municipal than multi-millionaire. This makes it incredibly unique on the premiere tour and a course that provides a challenge to even the most seasoned professional.
However, there are a couple of European Tour events that are played at similar altitude – including the Joburg Open. The link between this tournament and the WGC-Mexico Championship is strengthened by the performances of players like Shubhankar Sharma, who won the Joburg Open in 2017 by three strokes over Erik van Rooyen.
This helped him to qualify for last year’s WGC-Mexico Championship, where Sharma stormed into a second and third round lead before faltering with a last-gasp 74 to finish the tournament tied for ninth.
The second tournament that is played at high altitude is the Omega European Masters, which is hosted annually at the idyllic Crans Montana course in Switzerland. This challenging championship has recorded three British wins in the last four years, including consecutive triumphs for holder Matthew Fitzpatrick and a dominant 2015 success for Danny Willett.
A Look at This Year’s Key Contenders
The performance of Danny Willett in Switzerland during the 2015 European Masters is an interesting consideration, with the former U.S. Masters winner scheduled to compete in this years’ WGC-Mexico Championship.
From a betting perspective, Willett may also offer some value at odds of 125/1. These are based largely on the Brit’s fundamental lack of form and his negligible track record in Naucalpan. Despite these factors, he could well be a contender at high altitude – especially if he replicates his performance in Switzerland nearly four years ago.
Elsewhere the betting odds make for familiar reading, with bookies unsurprisingly backing the game’s elite performers to prevail in Mexico. World number one and 2018 runner-up Justin Thomas (17/2) is the current favourite, while two-time winner and 2017 champion Dustin Johnson (11/1) comes next and arguably offers a little more value to punters.
As for in-form Rory McIlroy, he’s currently looking extremely appealing at odds of around 12/1, especially as so many components of his game appear to be coming together at once. However, he’s another player with a poor track record in Mexico so it’s yet to be seen whether he can thrive in the harsh conditions at the Club de Golf Chapultepec course.
Outside of these three, the standout betting option is to back 14-time major winner Tiger Woods at an average price of around 20/1. After all, Woods won the WGC-Mexico Championship seven times between 1999 and 2013, with this run including an unprecedented hat-trick of titles in 2005, 2006 and 2007.
With the legendary American having also played his way into some form in the final round of the recent Genesis Open, we reckon he could well be there or thereabouts at the end of this year’s championship.
The Last Word
Ultimately, it can be hard to overlook the consistency of Thomas and Johnson on the tour, especially considering these two players have performed exceptionally well in Mexico during the last couple of years.
However, for anyone in the market for an outside bet, look no further than Woods or Willett. The former definitely has the pedigree to win here, while his stunning comeback from the brink in 2018 and set him up to challenge for more major honours in the near-term.
Willett’s odds obviously earmark him as an even longer-shot, but his ability and undoubted penchant for playing golf at high altitude means that he’s most likely overpriced. As a result, he may well be worth a low-value punt before the odds begin to fall.