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The favorite Tony Finau has finished second and first in the last two years
Denmark’s Nicolai Hojgaard is second favorite
Short rough means little risk from the tee box
Expect big hitting and birdies in Mexico this week but can Tony Finau, the short-price favorite, successfully defend his title?
|Erik Van Rooyen
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This is only the third time the Mexico Open at Vidanta has been approved by the PGA Tour.
Even though it's a long-standing national championship, it has lost some of its charm over the years.
It began in 1944 and attracted many golf legends, but gradually lost popularity and became a minor tour event.
That changed in 2022 with the move to the Vidanta Vallarta Resort and a swift pattern has emerged: to get on the first page, it helps if a player hits the ball a long, long way.
Jon Rahm won the first edition and was second last year, while Tony Finau was second in 2022 and then the winner in 2023.
Big hitting Cameron Champ finished in the top 10 both years, as did bomber Patrick Rodgers.
The trend makes perfect sense because the course is a wide, open resort layout with a little roughness and enough length to test the short hitters.
The main defense is the weather but it is currently forecast to be sunny all week, with the sea breezes cooling the players rather than defining the shots they play.
Going low will be the order of the day.
|Position and Winning Score
|1st - Tony Finau (U.S.A.) -24
|2nd - Jon Rahm (Spain) -21
|3rd - Brandon Wu (U.S.A.) -19
|4th - Akshay Bhatia (U.S.A.) -18
|1st - Jon Rahm (Spain) -16
|2nd - Tony Finau (U.S.A.) -15
|2nd - Kurt Kitayama (U.S.A.) -15
|2nd - Brandon Wu (U.S.A.) -15
The course is a par 71 that plays to 7,456 yards
It was designed by Greg Norman
Other Norman designs include El Camaleon, TPC San Antonio and Jumeirah Earth
It is wide open with very little rough
It favors big hitters
There is paspalum grass on the greens
The course is vulnerable to blustery sea breezes
Big Tony, who likes to travel with his large family, enjoys this week not only because of the course but also because the kids love the resort. He’s not only finished first and second on the course. He has also carded six straight scores of less than 67. A top six last month was his first since the win here last April.
The young Dane has really kicked on from his Ryder Cup debut and it is worth considering the location of his best three finishes since then: second in the Nedbank Challenge, a win in the DP World Tour Championship and second in the Farmers Insurance Open - all of them on tracks that demanded high quality, lengthy driving.
The Argentine winner of last June’s Charles Schwab Challenge tends to prefer a distinct test of the long game rather than a free for all from the tee box. He did, however, card a 65 in the final round last year to grab a share of fifth.
The tournament results confirm that Finau is a great fit for this week but he’s a short price for a man who often struggles to get over the winning line.
We’ll look elsewhere but not far because this might be the time for the new Prince of Denmark to step forward on the PGA Tour.
As already mentioned, Hojgaard’s long and aggressive driving was key to those three top two finishes he collected before and after Christmas.
But last year he was also second in the PGA Tour’s Corales Puntacana Championship and also the DP World Tour’s Czech Masters - two examinations that also call for big hitting and birdies.
The same can be said for his victory in the 2022 Ras al Khaimah Championship.
All talk of big-hitting and birdie blitzing brings the New Zealander Ryan Fox to mind.
That was his method of earning his PGA Tour card and this week represents a great opportunity for him to take the next step.
Like Hojgaard he has been a winner in Ras al Khaimah and he’s also claimed the Dunhill Links Championship so being by the sea won’t faze him.
Last time out, he opened the Phoenix Open with rounds of 66-68 to sit tied sixth on the leaderboard before ending the week 41st.
He can kick on from that and maintain the title bid this week.
Finland’s Sami Valimaki has been banging on the door of a top 40 finish in his rookie year on the PGA Tour and this week offers him a great chance.
He was 43rd at Torrey Pines and 41st at TPC Scottsdale in his last two starts, so why the hope in Mexico?
First of all, he’s a big driver, ranking in the top 20 this season, and his two wins on the DP World Tour have come on breezy resort courses that reward fine driving.
The first win was also on a Greg Norman course and he’s also finished fifth and 13th on Norman designs.
Tournament: Mexico Open at Vidanta
Location: Vidanta Villarta, Mexico
Date: Thursday, February 22 - Saturday, February 25
How to watch: Thursday & Friday 4-7 p.m. (golf channel), Saturday & Sunday 1-3 p.m. (golf channel), then 3-6 p.m. (nbc).
Matt Cooper has been a sports journalist since 2009 with his work appearing at ESPN, Sky Sports, NBC, Sporting Life and the Planet Sport Network among many others, in addition to guest appearances on the BBC and CNN. Although a specialist in golf, who has traveled the world to cover the sport, Matt has also covered rugby, cricket, football and the Olympics. Email: [email protected]More info on Matt Cooper
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