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Tuesday, 18 December, 2018

Revived Spieth ready to become chief of Chapultepec

Refreshed Rahm should go close again

Jordan Spieth has got over his putting problems
1 of 1

Tournament starts 5.15pm Thursday
Live on Sky Sports Golf from 7pm

Hideki Matsuyama and Brooks Koepka are injured, Jason Day is spending the week with his mother, while Rory McIlroy does not fancy the trip to Mexico, but every other member of the golfing elite features in the first World Golf Championship of the year.

World number one Dustin Johnson is 13-2 favourite to successfully defend the WGC-Mexico Championship title he won 12 months ago. Justin Thomas, who won the Honda Classic in heroic fashion on Sunday, is next in the betting at 8-1 and it is 12-1 bar the top two. Jon Rahm and Tommy Fleetwood lead the European challenge.

Palmer's top tip
Jordan Spieth 14-1
A final-round 67 meant Jordan Spieth left the Genesis Open last time out in ominously high spirits and the Open champion can kickstart his season by winning his first WGC title.

Spieth suffered illness over New Year, the effects of glandular fever lingering long into 2018, and he could not practice to his desired level in January. A slow start to the campaign resulted, with his form on the greens of particular concern, but the old master slowly but surely emerged at Riviera to breed confidence for the weeks ahead.

Spieth carded rounds of 71, 70, 69 and 67 in the Genesis, self-belief in his typically excellent putting returning at the weekend, and the three-time Major champion will be eager to find another gear in Mexico as the Masters looms large on the horizon.

Spieth showed an immediate liking for competing south of his homeland in his brief spell as a Tour player at the start of 2013, finishing seventh in the Panama Claro Championship and fourth in the Colombia Championship, before second place in the Puerto Rico Open secured a US Tour future.

A first raid to Mexico last year started slowly with rounds of 71 and 72, but Spieth then registered the Chapultepec course record, a flawless 63 in which he found 16 greens in regulation. Having been uncomfortable with his swing over the first two days to drop out of contention, he clicked on Saturday, making another five birdies on Sunday and finishing in 12th place.

More advice from Steve Palmer

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WGC-Mexico Championship threeballs and matchbets

Spieth carries all the tools to tame this track and is more than double the price of Dustin Johnson. The favourite has to be respected and could easily retain his crown, but the value lies with Spieth, who sensibly skipped the Seminole Pro-Member event in Florida on Monday.

Nearly all of the big guns in the sport teed up at Seminole, a prestigious gathering at a famous course, but Spieth, refreshed from a week off, has made sure his preparation for Mexico is uninterrupted and perfect.

Seeing his good friend Justin Thomas win the Honda on Sunday will probably act as a further spur. This is the first time Spieth has been behind Thomas in the world rankings and the determined Texan will want to get his nose back in front as soon as possible.

Next best
Jon Rahm 12-1
Johnson won last year without putting well, highlighting his comfort from tee to green at Chapultepec, and it is only his short price which means an absence from the staking plan. The layers are giving nothing away about the only course winner in the field.

There is enough juice in the odds of Jon Rahm, though, to justify a two-pronged attack from the market principals. Johnson will have his work cut out to defeat both Spieth and Rahm this week.

Rahmbo, as he likes to be known, topped the Mexico Championship leaderboard with three holes to play last year, but bogeys at the 16th and 17th meant he finished tied for third. A late wobble like that seems far less likely given what the youngster has since achieved.

Rahm has won twice on the European Tour since his first visit to Chapultepec, as well as adding a second US Tour title. He was world number 37 at this event last year, but has only Johnson above him this time.

Among his Spanish-speaking cousins this week, expect a refreshed Rahm to thrill the galleries again. He has started well and finished poorly in his three most recent events – perhaps the effect of competing for four consecutive weeks – but has recharged batteries since Pebble Beach.

Other selection
Thomas Pieters 40-1
A shot further behind Rahm on the final leaderboard last year was Thomas Pieters, who carded four rounds in the 60s to further demonstrate his liking for elite events.

This curious character can lose interest in tournaments, as shown by his Sunday 78 in the Genesis Open when out of contention the week before last, but the most prestigious events get his juices flowing and guarantee full focus.

Pieters has excelled in top-class company on tree-lined tracks – fourth place in the 2017 Masters was followed by the same position in the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational – and his debut performance in the 2016 Ryder Cup at Hazeltine National was nothing short of incredible.

After an encouraging Honda Classic warm-up – four solid rounds and a closing eagle for 13th spot – another bold bid for Mexico glory can be anticipated. The Belgian bomber is at ease competing south of America and narrowly missing a medal with fourth place in the Rio Olympics.

Others to note
Justin Thomas
The Honda Classic champion invested a lot of mental energy in getting the job done, winning a playoff on a super-tough track, then headed to Seminole the following day. Played well in Mexico last year, enjoying an ace on his way to a tie for fifth, but could start this time a little jaded.

Patrick Cantlay
The former world number one amateur looked the likely winner at Riviera for a long way, before dropping to fourth place. Class act, who won in Colombia on the Tour, could take an immediate shine to Chapultepec on his debut.

Justin Rose
The world number five is an obvious threat, but he finished 38th of 77 runners last year, and he could be rusty having taken a month off since Torrey Pines.

Tommy Fleetwood
The ever-smiling Southport lad was in the thick of things in the Honda on Sunday until his old putting frailty returned, bogeys at the 14th and 15th meaning surrender. The Race to Dubai champ was Mexico runner-up last year and is playing well enough to have another good week.

Rickie Fowler
The world number seven missed the cut as defending Honda champion last week, working on his game over the weekend. His last three events have sapped self-belief.

Sergio Garcia
The Masters champion seems to be coasting towards the birth of his first baby and his Augusta title defence. This assignment suits, but does not appear at full throttle.

Staking plan
J Spieth
3pts each-way 14-1 Betfred
J Rahm
3pts each-way 12-1 general
T Pieters
1pt each-way 40-1 general

The lowdown

Course Club de Golf Chapultepec, Mexico City, Mexico

Prize money $10m ($1.66m to the winner)

Length 7,330 yards Par 71 Field 64

Course records – 72 holes 270 Dustin Johnson (2017) 18 holes 63 Jordan Spieth (2017)

When to bet By 5.15pm Thursday
Where to watch Live on Sky Sports from 7pm Thursday
Time difference Mexico is six hours behind the UK and Ireland

Last week – Honda Classic 1 J Thomas (11-1), 2 L List (100-1), 3 A Noren (35-1), 4 T Fleetwood (30-1), T5 B A An (80-1), W Simpson (60-1)

Course overview From 2007 to 2016, Doral in Miami, which became known as Trump National Doral once purchased by Donald Trump in 2012, was the venue for this event.

Club de Golf Chapultepec took over for the first time last year. The Smith brothers, Willie and Alex, designed the course and it was constructed in 1928.

Percy Clifford redesigned the track in 1972 and it was further upgraded for the WGC. The Mexican Open has been staged on this track 18 times. The layout opens with a driveable, 316-yard, downhill par-four, then the 387-yard, par-four second hole is another good birdie chance.

It gets tougher from there, though, with two par-fours of 506 and 525 yards, two par-threes of 235 yards apiece, and two par-fives of 625 and 622 yards. It is uphill all the way from the 15th tee to the 18th green.

This is a long, challenging, tree-lined course, with water hazards guarding two of the par-threes (seventh and 17th), although the venue being at altitude means the ball flies further. The greens are fast and undulating

Story of last year Dustin Johnson saw off Jon Rahm in a ding-dong Sunday duel, the American pulling even with the Spaniard with a birdie at the 15th hole, before Rahm bogeyed two of his last three holes

Weather forecast Sunny with light breezes throughout, so scoring should be low

Type of player suited to challenge Quality ball-strikers should thrive in Mexico City on a track where long, straight hitting is required. Inaccuracy typically means tree-trouble at this venue. Form from the OHL Classic, a US Tour event in Mexico, is worth noting

Key attribute Accuracy

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Spieth carries all the tools to tame this track and is more than double the price of Dustin Johnson
E.W. Terms
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