By Tom LaMarre
Phil Mickelson seemed to be doing a slow fade toward the PGA Tour Champions when out of nowhere he captured the WGC-Mexico Championship in a playoff over Justin Thomas (pictured) last year to revive his brilliant career.
Lefty claimed his first victory since the 2013 Open Championship at Muirfield and a few weeks ago at the age of 48 he earned his record-tying fifth win in the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am for his 44th title on the PGA Tour. He also finished second in the Desert Classic a week earlier in another strong run through the West Coast Swing.
Mickelson will defend his WGC-Mexico title this week against the probably strongest field so far this season at Club de Golf Chapultepec in Naucalpan, Mexico, just west of Mexico City—where the 19-year-old tournament was first played in 2017.
The event started out as the WGC-American Express Championship in 1999 and later was known as the WGC-CA Championship, being played in England, Spain and several sites around the United States.
The 2001 tournament at Bellerive Country Club in St. Louis was cancelled because it was scheduled for the week after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Tiger Woods, 43, also is playing well again as he proved by claiming his 80th PGA Tour victory by winning the Tour Championship in October, and Mickelson is predicting a big year for the two best players of the last 20-plus years.
“Even today, if I play my best, if Tiger plays his best, it’s good enough to win on any week,” said Mickelson, who claimed his other two WGC titles in 2009. “The challenge is there are so many great young players and so many great players in the game today, that it takes our best to win.
“I just think that both myself and Tiger are going to have a really, really good year this year.”
For a while it seems as if the World Golf Champions were made for Woods, and his record of 18 WGC titles probably will never be broken. However, his last WGC title came in this event in 2013, when it was played as the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Trump National Doral in Miami.
Third-ranked Dustin Johnson is a distant second with five WGC victories, followed by Mickelson with three. Eighth-ranked Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland, Bubba Watson, Ian Poulter of England and Hideki Matsuyama of Japan all have won two and are in the field this week.
Others playing this week who have claimed WGC titles and are playing in Mexico include fourth-ranked Thomas, seventh-ranked Xander Schauffele, Matt Kuchar, 10th-ranked Francesco Molinari of Italy, Henrik Stenson of Sweden, Shane Lowry of Ireland, Russell Knox of Scotland, Patrick Reed and Keegan Bradley.
Among those in the field who surprisingly are winless in the WGCs are second-ranked Brooks Koepka, Jordan Spieth, sixth-ranked Jon Rahm of Spain and Paul Casey of England, but who knows, this might be the week for one of them.
- Justin Thomas, United States – Despite blowing a four-shot lead in the final round and finishing second to J.B. Holmes at Riviera, Thomas is playing well with two other top-three finishes in his last three starts. Claimed his first WGC title in the 2018 Bridgestone Invitational and finished second in Mexico City last year after tying for fifth in 2017.
- Dustin Johnson, United States – DJ was a bit sluggish in his last two PGA Tour events, tying for 45th at Pebble Beach and tying for ninth at Riviera since making the long flight home after winning the Saudi International, but rallied last weekend. Johnson has claimed five WGC titles, second to Tiger Woods’ 18, and won each of the four WGC events.
- Jon Rahm, Spain – The Spaniard has finished in the top 10 in all five of his PGA Tour starts this year and could be warming up for this third victory on the circuit. Rahm has yet to win one of the WGC events, but he tied for third two years ago in Mexico and tied for 20th last year, in addition to finishing second in the 2017 WGC-Dell Match Play.
- Rory McIlroy, Northern Ireland – Rory heads to Mexico in good form, coming off three straight top-10 finishes, including a tie for fourth in the Sentry TOC, a tie for fifth in the Farmers Insurance Open and a tie for fourth at Riviera. McIlroy won the 2014 WGC-Bridgestone and the 2014 WGC-Match Play among 21 WGC top 10 results.
- Bryson DeChambeau, United States – Even though he has never claimed a WGC tournament, DeChambeau is one of the favorites in Mexico because he was won four of his last 10 worldwide starts. He has shown he can win big titles by capturing two FedEx Cup playoff events last year and his tie for 15th at Riviera was his highest this year.
- Rickie Fowler, United States – Making his first start since claiming his fifth PGA Tour title at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, Rickie is seeking his first title in the World Golf Championships. His best result in the series was a tie for second behind Adam Scott of Australia in the 2011 Bridgestone Invitational, one of his 10 finishes in the top 10.
- Phil Mickelson, United States – Lefty could manage only a tie for 37th on a long and tiring weekend at Rivera after winning at Pebble Beach and finishing second in the Desert Classic, but figures to be back on track for his title defense in Mexico City. He has two other WGC victories, both in 2009, in addition to 11 other finishes in the top 10.
- Brooks Koepka, United States – Still has not won a World Golf Championships event, but Koepka showed he can win against the best players in the world by winning three majors in the last two years. A tie for second in the 2017 WGC-HSBC Champions is his best result in the series. Best result in three 2018-19 starts is a victory in the CJ Cup.
- Tiger Woods, United States – Showed flashes of his old brilliance in a tie for 15th at Riviera after a tie for 20th in his first start of the year in the Farmers, and Woods seems to be finding the form that took him to the 2018 Tour Championship. Tiger holds the record of 18 WGC titles, but the last came in the 2013 Cadillac Championship at Doral.
- Xander Schauffele, United States – Regaining his form after losing 10 pounds recently in a bout with the flu, Schauffele regained his lead in the FedEx Cup standings with a tie for 15th in the Genesis Open. He has won twice in the 2018-19 season, at the Sentry Tournament of Champions and the WGC-HSBC Champions in October.
- Haotong Li, China – In his last start, Li chased Dustin Johnson all the way to the end before finishing second in the Saudi International. Has six victories in his pro career.
- Shubhankar Sharma, India – Has eight victories in his career on the European, Asian India and Sunshine Tours, and tied for ninth last year in his WGC debut in Mexico City.
- David Lipsky, United States – Los Angeles native plays on Asian and European Tours, and his five career victories including the Alfred Dunhill Championship in December.
- Eddie Pepperell, England – The Englishman claimed two of his three pro victories on the European Tour last year and makes his World Golf Championships debut in Mexico.
- Byeong Hun An, Slouth Korea – The 2009 U.S. Amateur champion, who played college golf at Cal, has won three times as a pro. Finished T9 in 2016 WGC-Match Play.
For first round tee times visit https://www.pgatour.com/leaderboard.html