WGC-Mexico Championship 2019 picks: Here's why Justin Thomas will bounce back to win, according to a PGA Tour caddie
(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Last week at Riviera offered a lesson in how difficult it is to predict winners on the PGA Tour. For 54 holes, Justin Thomas dominated the Genesis Open—to the point where sportsbooks made him a live -400 favorite (-400 meaning, you have to bet $400 to win $100) entering the final round. JT looked unstoppable: Even after a shank during his third round, Thomas got up and down for par. But as we witnessed, there are no guarantees in golf, and certainly not in gambling.
So if you thought Thomas was a sure-fire pick to win, as our editors predicted before the week, you had to be frustrated. But it's time to get over the loss—just like we think Thomas will do this week in Mexico City.
Two of our expert golf handicappers have faith in Thomas finding motivation in his near-win at Riviera, and they're predicting his victory at the Club de Golf Chapultepec, where Thomas lost in a playoff last year to Phil Mickelson. As a reminder, our experts are on quite a roll: we've called five of the 14 winners so far this season. (And that was nearly six of 14.)
Pat Mayo has predicted three winners in this space this season—calling Phil Mickelson's victory at 25-to-1 odds two weeks ago at Pebble Beach. We continue to look to build off the momentum started with Golf Digest's weekly betting preview, which includes a PGA Tour caddie offering insight from the range and putting green every week, thanks to our partnership with The Caddie Network. Our caddie this week is behind JT's bounce-back victory. Read on to see why.
2019 WGC-Mexico Championship Picks To Win (Odds from DraftKings Sportsbook)
PGA Tour Caddie Guest Picker of the Week: Justin Thomas (10-1) — JT loves this track, and after last week’s disappointing finish, expect him to come out hungry. We saw through 54 holes that his ball-striking is as good as anybody in the world. His distance control with his irons are above most everybody. This kid plays hungry. The odds aren’t that great, but it’s a small field and he's the clear favorite for a reason to me.
Pat Mayo, DraftKings/Fantasy National analyst: Xander Schauffele (20-1) — No cut event? Fire up the X-Man. Of his four career wins, three have come in a tournament structured like this (limited field, no cut), and he’s coming off a week where the ball-striking was relatively on point, but just couldn’t get the putter going. No matter. Before Riviera, Xander had gained strokes on the greens in his previous five starts, so as long as the ball-striking persists, the putts will start to drop. We’ve already seen it in a brief flash at this course too, Schauffele was a stroke off the first round lead a year ago before settling into an 18th place finish.
Brandon Gdula, FanDuel/numberFire editor: Xander Schauffele (20-1) — The metrics really point to Schauffele's success this week, evidenced by him gaining strokes via his approach play in nine straight events (via FantasyNational.com) and ranked 10th in strokes gained: tee-to-green here last year (6th in approach). Like Pat said, we’ve seen Xander win numerous times in short-field, no-cut events (Tournament of Champions, WGC-HSBC and the Tour Championship).
Dr. Lou Riccio, Columbia University: Justin Thomas (10-1) — There are two levels of motivation here for me: JT wanting to avenge his performance in the final round at Riviera. And knowing a victory can be achieved in Mexico City, where he was edged by Phil last year. My model gives Thomas the best odds of winning here, so if you couple those motivational factors with the data, Justin Thomas is the no-brainer pick for me.
Golf Digest editors: Bryson DeChambeau (14-1) — If there's anyone who could handle the crazy elevation in Mexico City, and the difference in how far your golf balls travel, you'd think it'd be the Mad Scientist. Bryson is undeniably one of the five best players in the world right now. He has gained more than six strokes against the field in his past 10 rounds, according to FantasyNational.com. And he has control of his golf ball that few players do. Bryson ranked right next to Tiger Woods in terms of strokes gained/putting last week at Riviera (37th out of the 76 players to make the cut), which we'd attribute his struggles to.
(Results on the season: We’ve correctly predicted five of the season’s 14 events. Our editors nearly picked Justin Thomas’ win last week. Pat Mayo has correctly picked Bryson DeChambeau (12-1, Shriners); Matt Kuchar (60-1 at the OHL Classic) and Phil Mickelson (25-1 at Pebble Beach). Golf Digest editor Christopher Powers correctly picked Kevin Tway (55-1) to start the season at the Safeway Open. And Lou Riccio called Rickie Fowler's win (16-1) in Phoenix.)
Sleepers/Dark Horses That Could Win at the WGC-Mexico Championship (odds from DraftKings Sportsbook)
PGA Tour Caddie: Tyrrell Hatton (50-1) — The Englishman has two straight top-10s at this track, including a T-3 last year.
Mayo: Webb Simpson (33-1) — Normally, I wouldn’t be such a coward taking a golfer with such low odds as a “dark horse”, but: A) This a WGC, where only elite players actually win outright and B) Webb’s lack of starts so far in 2019 have him way off the radar. Mistake. He’s only played twice in this year (Tournament of Champions and the Waste Management), but here’s a common thread linking those performances: He was dialed in with the irons, finishing in the top five in both fields in strokes gained/approach, gaining an average of 6.5 strokes on approaches. Webb has been bad off the tee, but that's common for him. The impact of driving will be mitigated with the altitude at Club de Golf Chapultepec. You want a real long shot? I’m playing Danny Willett at 175-1 for the win and a top-5, too. The former Masters champ is sneakily starting to return to form.
Gdula: Henrik Stenson (70-1) — Henrik Stenson withdrew here in 2017, his only attempt at Chapultepec, and he has missed three straight cuts on the European Tour. But two were on the number, and the other was by a stroke. He ranked seventh in greens in regulation and ninth in accuracy in Saudi Arabia. At these lofty odds, he’s worth a shot.
Riccio: Henrik Stenson (70-1) — I'm with Brandon here. Stenson ranks inside the top 10 in my model for this week. At these odds, it's a true value to get the former Open champion here. He could turn his season around in a big way.
Golf Digest editors:Cameron Smith (66-1) — The Aussie gained four strokes relative to the field on his approach shots at Riviera, an impressive feat given Riv's tiny targets. The Aussie couldn't figure out the difficult greens, ranking 63rd out of 76 players for the week in strokes gained/putting. If his ball-striking carries over to the WGC-Mexico, we like his precision here to contend.
Players to Fade This Week (who will disappoint)
PGA Tour Caddie: Rickie Fowler (14-1) — I’m laying off of Rickie Fowler. He hasn't played in two weeks since his win in Phoenix. And his best finish here is T-16.
Mayo: Rickie Fowler (14-1) — Golf betting is all about value, and no player becomes overvalued as quickly during a hot run as Rickie. No doubt he can win, he’s coming off of a victory, but there’s no reason for him to have shorter odds than Bryson DeChambeau, Brooks Koepka, or Xander Schauffele. All those guys win more and have deeper odds. You’re paying the popularity tax with Fowler. The reverse of this is the Patrick Reed grant, where the public’s distain for him always pushes his odds longer than they should be. In this field, Fowler should be around 28/1, the books are offering half that number. It just doesn’t jibe with his actual win probability.
Gdula: Brooks Koepka (19-1) — Brooks Koepka struggled mightily at Chapultepec with approach and around-the-green play in 2017, and his three finishes so far in 2019 don’t really suggest this is the right week to deploy him at his short win odds, with so many other options that stand out a little more.
Riccio: Bryson DeChambeau (14-1) — My model gives DeChambeau the 24th best chance to win this week, which isn't great in a short field. Compared to his odds, this is a fade for me.
Golf Digest editors: Bubba Watson (35-1) — The tight confines of Chapultepec wouldn't seem to fit Bubba's game. He finished T-9 here last year, but that was coming off a win at Riviera. We feel like his finish in 2019 will be closer to 2017, when he finished T-38.
2019 WGC-Mexico Championship: Matchups
PGA Tour Caddie: Marc Leishman (+100) over Tony Finau (Topbet) — Marc Leishman is quietly putting a run of top 10s together (four in six starts this season). I expect the trend to continue.
Mayo: Ian Poulter (-105) over Henrik Stenson (Bodog) — Ian Poulter has been all over the world this year, from Hawaii to the Middle East and back, and it hasn’t affected his results. Stenson, while an overall better player, hasn’t made a cut in three starts to open the year. I’ve been off in these H2Hs so far this season, so I’m trying to keep it as simple as possible this week.
Gdula: Matt Kuchar (-125) over Patrick Reed (Topbet) — Matt Kuchar grades out top-24 among the field in strokes gained/approach, greens in regulation, and fairways gained over his past 100 rounds. Reed is outside the top 50 in all of them. Neither have played particularly well here, but Kuchar owns significantly better recent form.
Riccio: Billy Horschel (-120) over Shane Lowry (Topbet) — My model favors Horschel's proximity and par-4 scoring stats to Lowry, who tends to play well at WGCs but doesn't rank out well for me here.
Golf Digest editors: Charles Howell III (-115) over Louis Oosthuizen (Topbet) — Backing Charles Howell III has been a profitable endeavor in 2019. The guy has three top-10s this season, including the win at the RSM, and he hasn't finished outside the top 20 in five of his six starts. Meanwhile, we haven't seen much from Oosthuizen this year. We'll take our chances fading the talented South African, who hasn't had nearly the tournament reps as Howell has had.
(Matchup results last week: PGA Tour Caddie: 1 for 1 (Charles Howell III over Rafa Cabrera-Bello); GD Editors pushed their matchup (Xander Schauffele over Tiger Woods); Mayo: 0 for 1; Riccio: 0 for 1; Gdula 0 for 1
(Matchup results for the year: Riccio: 4 for 6; GD Editors: 4-6-1; PGA Tour Caddie: 4 for 7; Gdula: 2-4-1; Mayo: 2-6-1)
Top 10 (odds from DraftKings Sportsbook)
PGA Tour Caddie: Sergio Garcia (+350) — Too much quality there. He has a decent record around this place with two top-12 finishes and comes off an impressive stretch on the European Tour. Hopefully he can keep it together for four rounds this week!
Mayo: Joost Luiten (+750) — I could go the safe route, aka, the winning route, again and just roll Hideki back through the top-10 car wash, but I’ve been nailing these lately, so let’s get frisky. The Joost Luitener, in three starts through the Middle East, has already notched a pair of top-6 finishes. Three starts isn’t a robust sample, but Joost is currently third on the Euro Tour in strokes gained/approach and third tee-to-green. Obviously, he's a long shot in this event, but does have experience, having played it both years, even finishing T25 in 2017. An event where he lost 6.1 strokes putting. His +9.2 strokes gained/tee to green trailed only winner Dustin Johnson and runner-up Tommy Fleetwood that week.
Gdula: Hideki Matsuyama (+225) — Hideki ranked 10th in strokes gained/tee to green at Chapultepec in 2017, his only visit here. He leads the field in approach play over his past 24 rounds and has three straight top-15 finishes.
Riccio: Tommy Fleetwood (+300) — You're getting one of the best iron players in the world at +300, on a course where precision is everything. Fleetwood charts out as the fourth most likely to win this week. This is value for a top-10 bet.
Golf Digest editors: Marc Leishman (+300) — The Aussie isn't getting enough credit for his stellar play.
(Top-10 results last week: Once again, Mayo hit his top-10 bet (Hideki Matsuyama: +300). The rest of us have to keep up: Riccio: 0 for 1; Gdula: 0 for 1; PGA Tour Caddie: 0 for 1; GD Editors: 0 for 1)
(Top-10 results for the year: Mayo: 4 for 7; PGA Tour Caddie: 2 for 8; GD Editors: 2 for 7; Riccio: 2 for 7; Gdula: 1 for 7)
Mayo: I’ve already expanded on Xander and Webb, and frankly, Bryson and Woodland are just too cheap for their skill sets. Plus, you’ll notice the first four players have all had success at the year’s opening evening at Kapalua. A course which is similar that it plays a whole lot shorter than the scorecard dictates, and is set up as an elite field at the top with no cut. Phil Mickelson, Justin Thomas, Tyrrell Hatton, Dustin Johnson, Tommy Fleetwood, Jordan Spieth, and Sergio Garcia have finished inside the Top 15 both years at this course. Of the seven, five have played Kapalua for the Tournament of Champions in their careers, four have won at that course. Thought that was an interesting narrative. Plus, they all enter Top 20 in the field over the past 24 in strokes gained/ball-striking, an important metric found on www.FantasyNational.com.
Bryson DeChambeau ($10,000); Xander Schauffele ($9,100); Webb Simpson ($8,300); Gary Woodland ($7,900); Lucas Bjerregaard ($6,500)
Finally, there’s Bjerregaard. While I like Luiten and Willett to contend more from the bottom end, as discussed on my show this week, finishing placement and DraftKings scoring don’t line up perfectly. Making the Dane an amazing DraftKings play almost every time he laces up the spikes. Bjerregaard’s an absolute gas can: He’ll be on fire for 20 holes, then explodes for a round and kills his chances of winning. However, in DraftKings scoring, at a tournament with no cut, that doesn’t really matter, we just need as many birdies and eagles as possible, the bogeys are irrelevant. Birdies are worth 3 DraftKings points; eagles 8; and a bogey is minus a half point. So, a two-hole stretch with a birdie and a bogey is still +2.5 DraftKings points, whereas par/par gives you exactly the same number on the scorecard, but generates +1 DraftKings points. Plus, birdie streaks are bonus points, too. Bjerregaard’s was first on the European Tour in birdie percentage in 2018, and he is already gaining almost a stroke per round on approaches in 2019.
Riccio: I'm going with ball-strikers and strong iron players—Justin Thomas, Tiger, Tommy Fleetwood and Henrik Stenson—to adjust to the altitude in Mexico City.
Justin Thomas ($11,800); Tiger Woods ($9,500); Tommy Fleetwood ($8,200); Henrik Stenson ($7,200); Kevin Na ($6,900); Aaron Wise ($6,400)
Golf Digest Editors: This is a lineup that balances fire power (Rahm, Schauffele, Bjerregaard) with consistency and capability of making a ton of birdies in a hurry (Casey, Howell III, Hatton):Jon Rahm ($10,700); Xander Schauffele ($9,100); Paul Casey ($8,600); Charles Howell III ($7,800); Tyrrell Hatton ($7,300); Lucas Bjerregaard ($6,500) (hat tip Mayo here)
Gdula: In a small-field, no-cut event, it can seem enticing to load up on studs and roster a few cheap players who can’t miss the cut, but you can set yourself behind if your punt options struggle to keep pace.
For that reason, a balanced build looks more optimal this week, centering around golfers that consist out of the following group:
Xander Schauffele ($11,100), Phil Mickelson ($11,000), Hideki Matsuyama ($10,900), Tommy Fleetwood ($10,300), Sergio Garcia ($10,000), Webb Simpson ($9,800), Ian Poulter ($9,500), and Tyrrell Hatton ($9,200).
Riccio: Justin Thomas ($12,000); Tiger Woods ($11,200); Tommy Fleetwood ($10,300); Sergio Garcia ($10,000); Kevin Na ($8,600); Kyle Stanley ($7,900)
GD Editors: We're big fans of this lineup...
Justin Thomas ($12,000); Xander Schauffele ($11,100); Webb Simpson ($9,800);Matt Kuchar ($9,800); Billy Horschel ($9,500); Joost Luiten ($7,800).
About our experts
Dr. Lou Riccio, a PhD senior lecturer, teaches rational decision making at Columbia's Graduate School of Business and has served on the USGA's handicap research team for three decades. His predictive analysis and modeling helps him make expert picks for our column.
Pat Mayo is known as one of the pre-eminent experts in daily-fantasy sports and golf handicapping specifically. Mayo is a 14-time fantasy sports-writers association finalist and earned the 2018 FSWA "podcast of the year" award. Mayo is on the board of governors at www.fantasynational.com. Here’s a link to watch his complete DraftKings preview of the WGC-Mexico Championship.
Brandon Gdula, a senior editor and analyst for NumberFire, a FanDuel daily-fantasy analysis company, recently won the 2018 fantasy sports-writers association Golf Writer of the Year (congrats, Brandon!). Gdula also co-hosts the DFS Heat Check podcast.
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