MEXICO OPEN: The PGA Tour heads south of the border this week for Mexico’s national open, a tournament that may be new to the official schedule but has a long and storied history in its own right, with a list of past champions that includes names like Roberto De Vicenzo, Bobby Locke, Lee Trevino, and Ben Crenshaw. First held in 1944, it has bounced around different venues over the years but appears to have found a permanent home at Vidanta Vallarta, where the Greg Norman Signature Course has been built with the modern game in mind, tipping out at a beefy 7,456 yards despite playing to a par of 71.

The length isn’t the only thing that gives the Norman Course its teeth– indigenous trees and jungle foliage line several fairways, and water comes into play on more than half of the holes. Despite minimal rough and a general lack of severity off the tee, the course held up quite well last year, its first year hosting this event, as the cut fell at 2-under and the winning score was 17-under, putting it right in the middle of the pack in terms of difficulty level on the PGA Tour. And that was with good weather– considering Vidanta Vallarta is located right on the coast, less than a mile from the Pacific Ocean, there’s a definite possibility that the winds could pick up and the players could see a very different course over the next four days. Length off the tee is important this week, and so is the ability to control ball flight and trajectory to handle the coastal breezes.

Who is the first name that pops into your mind when you think “long, great ball-striker, can really control the trajectory of his irons”… is that Jon Rahm’s music I hear? Yep, the World No. 1 won here on debut last year despite middling form heading into the event, and now that he’s coming off his Masters triumph and a staggering 7 victories in his last 15 worldwide starts, it should come as no surprise that he’s the overwhelming favorite this week, with a price currently hovering around 3.7 on the BETDAQ exchange. It’s not only Rahm’s tremendous ability and recent success here that’s driving the price, but also the undeniable weakness of this field, as only 3 of the world’s top 50 players are in attendance. That’s a shame for tournament organizers and local fans, but it doesn’t mean we won’t get some excitement this week, as last year’s leaderboard was bunched at the top, with nine players finishing within three shots of Rahm. Here are three players who might be worth a look:

WIN MARKET

Recommendations to BACK (odds in parenthesis)

Gary Woodland (31.0)- Woodland has been solid if unspectacular this season, making the cut in 9 of his last 11 starts and finding the top-10 twice in that span. His game has definitely been on the upswing over the past couple of months, starting with a T9 at the Genesis Invitational that could’ve been better had it not been for a mediocre Sunday. He had a good week at the Masters, finishing 14th, and he followed that up with a respectable T31 at the RBC Heritage despite Harbour Town not being an ideal fit for his game. Well, Vidanta Vallarta is a very different place, and with its wide-open spaces and holes where the longer players can really gain an advantage, it sets up perfectly for a guy like Woodland, who ranks 9th on Tour in driving distance but 104th in driving accuracy. He played well here last year, shooting bookend 67s to finish T24, and that was after a missed cut at the Masters. Now that he has a little more momentum I like his chances to make some noise this week… seems like we’re getting decent value at 31.0.

Stephan Jaeger (52.0)- A win this week would be a big breakthrough for Jaeger’s career, no doubt, but you could say the same for about 90% of the field, and Jaeger has been known to rise to the occasion with low final rounds that send him rocketing up leaderboards, like his Sunday 62 at the Wyndham last year, or the brilliant Sunday 66 at the Wells Fargo a couple months prior that left him in a tie for 6th. He’s been back at it this year, most recently shooting back-to-back 67s over the weekend on a really hard course, PGA National Champion, to finish T15 at the Honda Classic. It’s been a good run overall for Jaeger, with 9 made cuts in his last 11 starts, and he played well in this tournament last year, riding a third-round 64 to a T15. That makes him an intriguing option at better than 50/1.

Satoshi Kodaira (128.0)- Weak field, foreign country, course that is still pretty new to all the players… it all adds up to a potentially good week for the dark horse, the longshot, the player who will use a hot 4-day stretch to open doors in his career that have previously been slammed shut. One player who may fit that description is Satoshi Kodaira, the 33-year-old native of Japan who was once viewed as a rising star but has crashed back to reality since his victory at the RBC Heritage five years ago. That said, Kodaira has shown flashes of form this season, like his T16 at the ZOZO Championship and a T29 at Pebble Beach that would’ve been far better had it not been for a third-round 76; and his ball-striking stats suggest that a breakthrough could be near, as he leads the Tour in proximity on approach and ranks 4th in driving accuracy. His T15 in this tournament last year turned out to be his second-best finish of the season, so he clearly knows his way around Vidanta Vallarta. At a price like 128.0, Kodaira is worth a shot.


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