Yep, I outsmarted myself last week. I was leaning toward Rickie Fowler as my choice to win the first stop of the Florida Swing, the Honda Classic, but I was too tempted by Swede Russell Knox's history at PGA National and his nice price of +3000.
Yet there was Fowler teeing off on Sunday in Palm Beach with a four-shot lead. He was far from sharp in his final-round 71, but he won by the margin he started the day with (although the lead was down to one shot briefly). He ended up at 12-under 268, one stroke behind the tournament record Camillo Villegas set winning at PGA National in 2010. It was the first time in five tries that Fowler turned a 54-hole lead into a victory and his first PGA Tour win since September 2015. He's the 11th player in his 20s to win in 15 events this season. Seven of eight tournaments in the New Year have been won by players in their 20s.
Big-hitting Gary Woodland was Fowler's closest pursuer for most of Sunday, pulling within a shot of the lead after a birdie at the 13th hole. However, like Fowler he bogeyed his final two holes and finished second with Fowler's former Oklahoma State teammate Morgan Hoffmann. It was the best result of Hoffman's career. I did get Fowler for a Top 10 at +150 and at -110 head-to-head over Justin Thomas (-120). Knox disappointed with rounds of 72-73 to miss the cut. Other than that, not a great week for me after back-to-back projected winners.
I'll just cut to the chase regarding this week's limited-field, no-cut, big-money World Golf Championships-Mexico Championship. Handicapping golf isn't exactly brain surgery. You simply analyze how a player has fared at a course in the past along with the current state of his game. Alas, I won't be able to use the "Horse for the Course" ratings this week because it's the inaugural WGC-Mexico Championship. Thus I'm flying mostly blind here.
This tournament used to be called the WGC-Cadillac Championship and had been held at Doral outside Miami since 2007. But Doral is owned by Donald Trump. I'm not here to get into a political argument, but I think we can all agree that Trump has said some controversial things - especially last year when trying to win the Republican nomination. PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem announced last June that this tournament was moving to Mexico City because Cadillac's sponsorship had run out and the company wasn't interested in re-upping. The Tour couldn't find an American sponsor to keep it at Doral. Finchem says this has nothing to do with politics. That's hogwash. The commissioner did at least admit that perhaps the trouble with finding a replacement sponsor was due to Trump. I guarantee some sponsor would have stepped forward if it knew Trump was going to pull the biggest presidential upset of modern history in this country. Trump was around in last year's final round and I'm sure would have made an appearance again. He fancies himself a scratch golfer.
So I honestly don't know what to expect this week. The course is called Club de Golf Chapultepec and is a par 71 at 7,330 yards. It's also at about 7,800 feet above sea level, making it about 50 percent higher than Denver and the highest ever for a PGA Tour event. The last time the Tour played in anything close to altitude like this was the 2014 BMW Championship. That was held at Cherry Hills outside Denver (for what it's worth, Billy Horschel won that week at 14 under). You are going to see some massively long drives here as the thin air should allow the ball to travel an extra 10 percent or so. The ball also won't spin as much.
The WGC-Mexico Championship has the best field of the year thus far. Every member of the world's Top 50 had committed - was to be the first time the Top 50 all played an event since the 2016 PGA Championship -- but No. 2 Jason Day pulled out over the weekend, citing an illness and ear infection. Even the last-place finisher at this tournament earns like $50K. To play golf. Must be nice. The "defending champion" is Adam Scott.
Golf Odds: WGC-Mexico Championship Favorites
Dustin Johnson is the +650 favorite at Bovada as he will tee off Thursday with the No. 1 ranking for the first time in his career. He jumped to that spot with his impressive win at the Genesis Open two weeks ago. DJ took last week off. He had a great track record at Doral with a win in 2015 and two other Top 5s this decade. Johnson hits as long as anyone so he should clean up on the par 5s and perhaps drive a par 4 or two.
Jordan Spieth is +800 and Rory McIlroy +1100. Spieth also took last week off. He had a win on the West Coast Swing at Pebble Beach but never contended in three trips to Doral. McIlroy hasn't played since a second-place finish at the South African Open on the European Tour in mid-January due to injury. I'm not high on him this week due to rust.
Hideki Matsuyama (+1200) and Henrik Stenson (+1400), making his first start in the USA this season, round out the favorites. Fowler is +1800 to win a second week in a row and Scott is +2200 to "repeat."
Golf Odds: WGC-Mexico Championship Picks
For a Top 10, I'll go with bombers Johnson (-160) and Woodland (+400) as well as Stenson (+120), who is overdue a WGC win with four Top 5s in those events. I'll stick with Stenson as top European at +450 and Justin Rose (+200) as top Englishman. Scott (-200) should cruise as top Aussie.
Head-to-head, go with Woodland (-130) over Tyrell Hatton (even), Sergio Garcia (even) over Jon Rahm (-130), Rose (-125) over Scott (-105), Matsuyama (-130) over Fowler (even), Stenson (-105) over McIlroy (-125), and Johnson (-125) over Spieth (-105).
I somewhat like Stenson this week and you can get him, Fowler and Thomas at +550 vs. the field (-1000). Just not high on Thomas or Fowler. I'd probably prefer Johnson & Spieth (+300) vs. the field (-450) if using one of those props. But Woodland's my value play this week at +3300 as he has played well at the Barracuda Championship previously at altitude in Reno. He's also having a good season.
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