As the best players in the world arrive in Mexico for the second edition of the WGC-Mexico Championship, some have spent as much time on an airplane in the past three weeks as on the course. This event takes place in the middle of a swing which offers tournaments in California, Florida, Mexico, then back to Florida, in successive weeks. Needless to say, air travel is not ideal preparation for any physical activity, but how did it affect those who danced around North America last year?
Funny you asked… I put together some numbers.
First, airplanes. In order to fly non-stop to Mexico City, which is about 15 miles from Club de Golf Chapultepec, golfers would have to drive an hour or more from PGA National to Fort Lauderdale or Miami, then sit through a four-hour flight. That doesn’t sound horrible, but when you combine it with a cross-country flight the week before from Los Angeles to southern Florida, the body begins to hate you. At least mine does…
Ok, fine… they have to fly a lot. They do it all season. But can excessive travel and multiple time zone changes in a short period of time bother some of the best athletes on the planet?
Of the top-10 finishers last year at the inaugural WGC-Mexico Championship, only Tyrrell Hatton made the cut in a tournament the previous week; he finished T4 in the 2017 Honda Classic in Florida. Seven of the other nine did not play The Honda Classic, and two players – Justin Thomas and Thomas Pieters – played and missed the cut. Both had played the week before, at the Genesis Open in California, then flew to Florida to play The Honda Classic.
Looking at the players who finished 11th-20th (12 players total) shows us that five did not play the week prior, six played and made the cut at Honda, and Daniel Berger played in Florida but missed the cut.
All told, the 2017 WGC-Mexico Activity Stats (I made that up) look like this:
- 76 players completed the tournament (Stenson WD)
- 44 did not play the week prior
- 8 missed the cut the week prior
- 1 WD the week prior (Branden Grace)
- 23 made the cut the week prior
- 15 were playing for the third (or more) week in a row
- 7 of those made cut in both of the previous two weeks
These are the 15 players who made the WGC-Mexico Championship their third straight week (or more) on the course – remember, that means California-Florida-Mexico – and their finishes in those tournaments include:
- Justin Thomas: 39-MC-5
- Thomas Pieters: 2-MC-5
- Sergio Garcia: 49-14-12
- Paul Casey: 39-11-16
- Francesco Molinari: MC-14-20
- Jimmy Walker: 55-11-21-25
- Branden Grace: 22-WD-32
- Soren Kjeldsen: MC-37-32
- Mackenzie Hughes: 54-MC-10-MC-66-32
- Jhonattan Vegas: 15-4-38
- Adam Scott: 14-11-35
- Brooks Koepka: MC-MC-48
- Louis Oosthuizen: 5-21-48
- Brendan Steele: 39-14-48
- Si Woo Kim: WD-MC-MC-MC-MC-72
What does this mean? The only player who played three (or more) weeks in a row, made the cut in Florida, and improved his finish in Mexico was Sergio Garcia.
Still with me? Let’s go a bit deeper.
If you stack up the 2017 WGC-Mexico Championship field in order of OWGR before the tournament, you find that Dustin Johnson was No. 1, and Kyung-Tae Kim was No. 76. Comparing their 2017 finish to how they ranked in field OWGR isn’t a metric that typically matters much, but the data from last year’s tournament is interesting. Behold…
Of the seven players above who made the cut in the previous two weeks before arriving in Mexico, the only two players to post a tournament finish higher than their field OWGR were Vegas and Steele; Vegas was ranked 59th in the field and he finished T38, and Steele was ranked 49th and he ended up T48. Adam Scott, who was ranked eighth in the field, finished T45, and Louis Oosthuizen posted a T48 despite being ranked 23rd.
How do you apply this to 2018? That’s up to you… but looking at this year’s field, we find some interesting figures.
There are only 65 players in the field this year, down dramatically from a year ago. Part of that is based on qualification criteria, but stars like Rory McIlroy and Henrik Stenson chose to skip the event to rest. Why skip an event with a purse of $10 million? Because it requires flying to Mexico.
This year, 12 of the 65 players are golfing for the third week (or more) in a row in, but only six are ranked in the top-44 in the field. Below are the 12 world travelers, and their results prior to this week:
- Justin Thomas: 9-WIN
- Tommy Fleetwood: 37-4
- Alex Noren: 16-3
- Thomas Pieters: 68-13
- Daniel Berger: MC-29
- Rafa Cabrera-Bello: 26-26-29
- Jhonattan Vegas: MC-72
- Peter Uihlein: 26-MC
- Shubhankar Sharma: MC-MC
- Abraham Ancer: 68-MC
- Adam Bland: MC-73-MC-MC
- Brandon Stone: MC-MC
The repeat offenders are Thomas, Pieters and Vegas, who obviously didn’t feel like the travel bothered them last year. Remember, Vegas was the only one of these players to make the cut last year at The Honda Classic, firing a final-round 64 to jump to T4. In other words, he’s the only player in the entire field who played three weeks in a row both years and made the cut the week before at The Honda Classic. The difference is that Vegas scuffed his way to a final-round 78 last week, and arrives in Mexico in sub-par form.
I know that I’m almost 1,000 words into this, but here’s the disclaimer: I have no idea if any of this matters. The sample size is too small. However, travel typically isn’t a golfer’s friend, and jumping between states, time zones and countries hasn’t proven fruitful for professionals. This is why I’m not counting on Thomas, Fleetwood or Noren to hit the top-five, nor do I think guys like Pieters or Berger will grab this title.
So who should fantasy lovers focus on? Using the data above as one strong metric, and remembering that the chalk usually rules the WGC events, take a look at these horses:
- Dustin Johnson – He’s the No. 1 player in the world and has five WGC titles to his name. The defending champ is in prime form, despite a disappointing T16 two weeks ago at Riviera. Read that out loud.
- Jon Rahm – He arrived in Mexico last year as a kid and left as a man. Rahm took the last two weeks off and will try to improve upon his T3 from a year ago.
- Phil Mickelson – Why not? He skipped The Honda Classic last week after three consecutive top-six finishes. The Thrill hasn’t won a WGC event since 2009, but his T7 here last year combined with a white-hot start to the year means he should be in the hunt.
- Kevin Chappell – His second-round 77 here last year sunk his chances, but Chappell arrives as a top-25 machine with the potential for more. He has finished outside the top-35 once July, and that was MC at the OHL Classic. Sleeper top-10 here.
Don’t forget about guys like Tony Finau, Patrick Cantlay, Adam Hadwin and Xander Schauffele, young stars in excellent form who didn’t play in Mexico last year.
I’m not sure why, but I feel Joost Luiten could make some noise this week.