PGA Tour best bets: Mexico Open

April 26, 2022 08:52 PM
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At pre-tournament odds of + 750, Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele completed a wire-to-wire victory Sunday in the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, winning by two strokes over our tip of Billy Horschel and Sam Burns. Cantlay, despite losing two playoffs in 2022 (Phoenix Open and Heritage), has four PGA Tour victories in the last 11 months. Meanwhile, Schauffele earned his first PGA Tour victory since January 2019 (Tournament of Champions) and continues to win in either smaller field events or events with different formats such as the Zurich. 

This week, the PGA Tour returns to a stroke-play tournament format with a new event at the Mexico Open. Overall, the strength of the field is quite weak. The Mexico Open brings an unknown course and a long plane ride to next week’s Wells Fargo Championship in Charlotte, so it’s easy to see why few top-ranked players chose to make the trip.

World No. 2 Jon Rahm (9-2) is the favorite. After Daniel Berger withdrew Monday with a back injury, the second choice on the board is Abraham Ancer (16-1), who is a citizen of both Mexico and the United States. Tony Finau checks in at 20-1 and is followed by Gary Woodland (22-1), Kevin Na (25-1), Patrick Reed (28-1) and Cameron Tringale (33-1). Only seven of the OWGR top 50 are making the trip to Vallarta, Mexico. 

​The Event

Despite this being a first-time PGA Tour event in its current form, the Mexico Open was first played as the Mexican Open in 1944 at the Club de Golf Chapultepec. It was an event on the Tour de las Americas from 2003 to 2006 (co-sanctioned by the European Challenge Tour from 2004 to 2006). It became a Nationwide Tour event in 2008. Then in 2013, the tournament was moved to March and became an official event for PGA Tour Latinoamerica at Club de Golf Mexico.

In 2022, the tournament becomes an official event on the PGA Tour, with a purse of $7.3 million 500 FedEx Cup points to the winner. 

The Course

Vidanta Nuevo Vallarta is a golf destination in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Set on the Pacific Coast, Mexican conglomerate Grupo Vidanta has several golf courses within their Vallarta resort complex, the newest of which is the Norman Signature Course.

Designed by Greg Norman and opened in 2015, the course is only accessible via the world’s longest golf-cart suspension bridge. Set within a kilometer of the Pacific shoreline, the course itself is set on the Ameca River, with a few holes running alongside. It is a resort course by nature, seemingly flat with plenty of lakes and ponds forming hazards. Featuring panoramic views of the Sierra Madre mountain range and the Banderas Bay to the southwest, the design is surrounded by parota trees, native grasses and patches of lush jungle.

Vidanta Vallarta is a par-71 measuring 7,456 yards. It ranks as the seventh-longest course on the PGA Tour. It is a unique track that has five par-3s, nine par-4s and four par-5s. While the par-3s are average in length, five of the par-4s measure more than 475 yards and three of the par-5s more than 585 yards.

The track is comprised of Paspalum throughout. Paspalum, a very common grass on coastal courses, is known for being sticky, meaning drives will not roll out as much on these wide fairways and will stop much quicker on the greens. The rough is quite short and non-penal. Greens should run pretty slow at around 10.5 on the stimpmeter. This looks like a very scoreable track, but there are 106 bunkers (second-most on tour) and 11 holes with water in play. 

Correlated courses include TPC Craig Ranch, Coco Beach, Corales, TPC San Antonio, Congaree and the Plantation Course at Kapalua. Coco Beach (Puerto Rico Open) and Corales (Corales Puntacana Championship) are both resort-style courses that also feature Paspalum. TPC San Antonio (Texas Open) is another Norman design. TPC Craig Ranch (AT&T Byron Nelson) and Congaree (2021 Congaree Championship) are courses that favored bombers, with wide fairways and non-penal rough. 

Statistical Analysis

Driving Distance Gained (Last 24 Rounds)

With no course history, the Mexico Open is a difficult tournament in which to create statistical models. Nevertheless, this course looks to be one for the bombers.

1. Cameron Champ, 20.4 (yards gained per drive)

2. Wyndham Clark, 19.6

3. Jon Rahm, 16.8

4. Trey Mullinax, 16.2

5. Joseph Bramlett, 16.1

6. Brandon Hagy, 15.9

7. Curtis Thompson, 15.4

8. Callum Tarren, 13.9

9. Kurt Kitayama, 12.5

10. Kevin Tway, 12.1

11. Gary Woodland, 11.9

12. Robert Garrigus, 11.3

Strokes Gained: Ball Striking (Last 24 Rounds)

Iron play is always important and should be modeled every week to some degree, but we can incorporate performance off the tee by using Strokes Gained: Ball Striking, which accounts for both. 

1. Jon Rahm, 49.3

2. Sebastian Munoz, 25.8

3. Chris Kirk, 25.2

4. Austin Smotherman, 24.9

5. Tony Finau, 21.9

6. Russell Knox, 19.2

7. Gary Woodland, 16

8. Joseph Bramlett, 15.8

9. Aaron Wise, 15.1

10. Ryan Armour, 13.9

11. Nick Taylor 13,.8

12. Adam Svensson, 13

Proximity Gained: 200+ Yards (Last 24 Rounds)

With four par-4s at or near 500 yards and two par-5s measuring more than 600 yards, players will have several approach shots from at least 200 yards.

1. Aaron Rai, 25.3 (feet gained per shot)

2. Jon Rahm, 22.7

3. Taylor Moore, 21.3

4. Ryan Armour, 20.8

5. Austin Smotherman, 19.9

6. Cameron Tringale, 19.8

7. Tony Finau, 19.8

8. Cameron Champ, 19.7

9. Kelly Kraft, 17

10. Gary Woodland, 16.9

11. Tyler Duncan, 15.7

12. Danny Lee, 14.8

Birdie Or Better Gained (Last 24 Rounds)

Depending on the wind conditions, this should be a scoreable course with a winning number somewhere in the range of 20-under par.

1. Charles Howell III, 17

2. Chad Ramey, 16.2

3. Chris Kirk, 14.4

4. Gary Woodland, 12

5. Jon Rahm, 11.8

6. Danny Lee, 9.6

7. Sebastian Munoz, 9

8. Scott Brown, 8.6

9. Greyson Sigg, 8.4

10. Aaron Rai, 8.4

11. Matt Jones, 8.3

12. David Lingmerth, 8.3

Sand Saves Gained (Last 24 Rounds)

With 106 bunkers plus sandy waste areas littered throughout the course, Sand Saves take on a greater importance.

1. Seung-Yul Noh, 8

2. Brendon Todd, 7.1

3. Kevin Tway, 7

4. Charles Howell III, 6.4

5. Wesley Bryan, 6.4

6. Aaron Baddeley, 6.1

7. Patrick Reed, 5.9

8. Michael Thompson, 5.7

9. Luke Donald, 5.6

10. C.T. Pan, 5.6

11. Joshua Creel, 5.2

12. Chris Kirk, 4.8

Strokes Gained: Tee-To-Green on Courses > 7,400 Yards (Last 24 Rounds)

One of the more general categories to examine on a week-to-week basis is Strokes Gained: Tee-To-Green. Paspalum greens tend to equalize good and bad putters, so more emphasis should be put on the tee-to-green game. 

1. Jon Rahm, 37.6

2. Aaron Wise, 34.3

3. Chris Kirk, 27.7

4. Charles Howell III, 27.3

5. Gary Woodland, 25.3

6. Matt Jones, 24.1

7. Russell Knox, 23.3

8. Matt Wallace, 22.6

9. Emiliano Grillo, 20.8

10. Kevin Streelman, 20

11. Lanto Griffin, 19.8

12. Tony Finau, 17.2

Selections

Aaron Wise (33-1 Boyd Sports)

Wise has missed four of eight cuts this year but has shown some signs of life, making three of his last four. At the Arnold Palmer Invitational, he ranked second off the tee and 19th on approach. At The Players, he ranked sixth on approach, and at the Heritage, he ranked ninth off the tee. Putting has been the weak part of Wise's game this season, but he returns to Paspalum, a surface on which he has had success. He ranked third, sixth and first in putting in his last three visits to El Camaleon (with Paspalum surfaces) for the Mayakoba tournament, the other PGA Tour event held annually in Mexico. 

Cameron Champ (50-1 DraftKings)

Currently the longest hitter on the PGA Tour, Champ is a highly streaky player. He is coming off his best finish of the season with a top 10 at the Masters three weeks ago, his second career top-10 finish in a major. 

Charles Howell III (55-1 Circa Sports)

Howell had his best finish in 21 months with a fourth at the Texas Open on the Norman-designed TPC San Antonio. CH3 ranks high on models this week in all of the around-the-green statistics. 

Carlos Ortiz (70-1 DraftKings)

Ortiz’s younger brother Alvaro won this event last year on a different course on the PGA Tour Latinoamerica. Carlos turned 30 on Sunday and comes home to Mexico to play in an event sponsored by Vidanta Resorts, for whom he is a brand ambassador. While Mayakoba is a totally different course than Vidanta Vallarta, Ortiz has two runner-up finishes there, so he should be comfortable on Paspalum greens. 

Wyndham Clark (100-1 DraftKings)

Clark finished top 10 last week at the Zurich Classic, partnering with Cameron Tringale. He is one of the tour’s longest hitters and has shown signs lately with his irons. Two weeks ago at the Heritage, Clark gained on approach in all four rounds for the first time since the 2021 Phoenix Open. 

Austin Smotherman (125-1 BetMGM)

Smotherman won this event in 2018 as a part of PGA Tour Latinoamerica at Tijuana Golf Club. He finished fourth that season on the tour’s Order of Merit, and many of those courses feature Paspalum greens. He ranks fourth in this field for Strokes Gained: Ball Striking over the last 24 rounds. 

Joseph Bramlett (125-1 DraftKings)

Bramlett ranks sixth in Driving Distance on the PGA Tour. His best finishes on the PGA Tour have been on coastal tracks such as Coco Beach (ninth, 2020 Puerto Rico Open), Pebble Beach (18th, 2020), Waialae (20th, 2022 Sony Open) and Corales (13th, 2021 Corales Puntacana Championship).

Catalunya Championship

Pablo Larrazabal shot 62 on Sunday to win the ISPS Handa Championship in Spain for his second victory of 2022. Larrazabal won on his home soil, at a price of 22-1, by one stroke over fellow Spaniard Adrian Otaegui, one of our tips last week. 

This week, the DP World Tour heads to the opposite side of Barcelona for a one-off event at the Catalunya Championship. This week's field is very similar to last week's in that there is no clear-cut favorite. The top two finishers in Tarragona last week, Larrazabal and Otaegui, are both 25-1 along with Rasmus Hojgaard. Bernd Wiesberger, last week's favorite, is priced at 28-1. Jordan Smith (30-1) has two runner-up finishes this season, including a playoff loss to Larrazabal last month in South Africa. Richard Bland (30-1), who will defend his British Masters title next week, returns to Europe after a few weeks stateside trying to earn a spot in the Masters. Bland gained his OWGR top-50 ranking (for the first time in his career) a week too late at the Texas Open. Poland’s Adrian Meronk (35-1) has been knocking on the door for his first DP World Tour victory with three top-six finishes this season. Nicolai Hojgaard, Adri Arnaus and Laurie Canter follow in the market at 40-1.

The Catalunya Championship was created this year as a one-off event to replace the postponed Volvo China Open. The tournament follows last week's ISPS Handa Championship in Spain, another one-off event created to replace the ISPS Handa Championship in Japan. 

Girona, in Northern Catalonia about 60 miles northeast of Barcelona, hosts the Catalunya Championship. The Stadium Course at the PGA Catalunya Resort is a par-72 of 7,353 yards. Tree-lined and classical in style, the Stadium Course was created with the vision of hosting a Ryder Cup — it was Spain’s candidate for the 2022 bid — and has the lofty aspirations of being Europe’s version of TPC Sawgrass, which hosts The Players Championship. 

Water is in play on five holes as the course navigates around the local lakes to create some island-style greens. Trees are the principal danger for those that are wayward off the tee. 

This track hosted the final round of European Tour Q-School from 2008-2016. Other tournaments played at the course were the 1999 Sarazen Open; the 2000, 2009 and 2014 Spanish Opens; and the PGA Catalunya Resort Championship on the Nordic Golf League from 2016-2022.

​Selections

Adrian Otaegui (25-1 Westgate Superbook)

Backing a player the week after he should have won is not normally a great idea, but Otaegui has three top-five finishes over the last 11 weeks, including a runner-up last week. The Spaniard, who was second last week in Strokes Gained: Approach, shared the top spot here at the 2015 Q-School. 

Jordan Smith (30-1 DraftKings)

Smith has two runner-up finishes this season (Ras al Khaimah Championship and MyGolfLife Open). He ranks sixth on the DP World Tour for Strokes Gained: Off-The-Tee and second for Greens In Regulation.

Laurie Canter (40-1 BetMGM)

Canter has gone well on the Iberian Peninsula, finishing runner-up in Portugal two years ago and leading at Valderrama at one point last year. While he finished 30th last week, he ranked in the top 15 both off the tee and on approach. 

Adri Arnaus (45-1 DraftKings)

Arnaus has missed two consecutive cuts but had four consecutive top 10s before that, including a playoff defeat in South Africa. This looks to be a good spot to buy the market dip for the Barcelona native, looking for his long-awaited first DP World Tour victory. 

Antoine Rozner (50-1 DraftKings)

Like Otaegui, we are back aboard with Rozner for a second consecutive week. The Frenchman spoke of his game starting to come around and posted his best finish of the year last week with a fifth at Tarragona. 

Tom Lewis (70-1 DraftKings)

After reaching the OWGR top 50 in the summer of 2020, Lewis had not posted a top-10 finish anywhere in the world until last week. He was coming off five consecutive missed cuts on the Korn Ferry Tour, so perhaps the comfort of his old stomping grounds on the DP World Tour is just what he needed. Lewis has won twice in Portugal and has a couple of good finishes at PGA Catalunya (15th at the 2014 Spanish Open and 11th at the 2016 Q-School finals).

Brandon Stone (150-1 BetMGM)

Stone has made seven of nine cuts this season. He is a speculative play but worth a flier considering he was less than half the price in his last start (Qatar Masters, where he finished 40th).

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