Replacing one of the PGA Tour’s elite non-majors this week, the WGC-Mexico Championship is now the WGC-Workday Championship At The Concession – at least for the 2021 edition, as the COVID-19 pandemic makes international travel especially risky.
The Concession, named after an act of good sportsmanship from the legendary Jack Nicklaus at the 1969 Ryder Cup, the first tie in event history, will be the host venue for an official season event for the first time.
Located in Bradenton, along Florida’s central west coast, the area hopes to add to the prodigious success seen in the sports world in this unprecedented year.
Every golfer inside the top 17 of the Official World Golf Rankings will be among the 72 players in attendance this week. The bar has been set high with dramatic finishes on Tour the past three weeks, and TV executives hope that trend continues this week. There is no shortage of storylines, but here are six to pay special attention to:
1. Reed Defends (Sort Of)
It may not be terribly relevant given that it occurred at Club de Golf Chapultepec near Mexico City, but in this event a year ago, Patrick Reed notched his then 8th career Tour victory, and second WGC (both in this tournament) by finishing a stroke ahead of Bryson DeChambeau.
Reed was one back of Justin Thomas to begin the final round, and was two behind DeChambeau late, but birdied 15, 16, and 17 to claim victory. It was the best result of a resurgent 2020 season for the now 30-year-old Reed, posting eight top 10s in 20 starts, and finishing 8th in the final FedExCup Standings.
In six 2021 season starts, the world No. 11 Reed has kept the heat up, with five finishes of T21 or better in six starts, capped by a victory in his last PGA Tour start, the Farmers Insurance Open at notoriously difficult Torrey Pines Golf Club. It technically was not his most recent event though, as he finished T66 three weeks ago in a European Tour event in Saudi Arabia.
To put it mildly, the former Masters champion is not a popular champion when he finishes atop a leaderboard. That was on display at Torrey Pines for his most recent rules controversy, when he got relief on the 10th hole from a ball he lost in the deeper grass. It has been hotly debated whether Reed should have gotten relief and whether Reed purposely acted improperly to his advantage. Reed has not been a stranger to these kinds of controversies.
It could be argued that nobody in the field benefits more from the lack of fans than Reed, as the crowds typically are not favoring him anyway. Regardless, his event history and elite putting stroke (2nd on Tour in strokes gained: putting) make him among the favorites in Bradenton this week.
2. Alternate Power
With the WGC events being limited-field, 72 players in this case of the Workday, it makes sense that it would have an especially strong group of alternates. However, this year’s group of players crossing their fingers for an opening is especially impressive. Among those players:
1st alternate: Si Woo Kim – Ranked 53rd in the world, won last month’s The American Express
2nd alternate: Matt Wallace – Four time European Tour winner, who finished T3 at the 2019 PGA Championship
6th alternate: Jordan Spieth – 3-time major champion, 11 time Tour Champion, and former world No. 1, who has finished T4-T3-T15 over the past three weeks. He has qualified for every WGC event since turning pro in 2013.
8th alternate: Rickie Fowler – 5 time Tour winner, who has finished third or better in all four majors, and has 12 top-10s in WGC events. Has been ranked as high as fourth in the OWGR.
10th alternate: Chez Reavie – Winner of the 2019 Travelers Championship by four strokes and place T3 at the 2019 U.S. Open. He finished T6 at the last WGC event played.
If those are the players who did not make the field, what does that tell you about the ones who did?
3. World No. 1 Back In Action
The story of the WGCs has largely coincided with the story of Tiger Woods, as 18 of his 82 career PGA Tour victories have come in these events. Not only is that the most in Tour history, but it is 12(!) more than the man at No. 2.
Still recovering from a recent surgery, Tiger will not be at The Concession attempting to win this event for the eighth time, meaning that the man with six WGC titles, World No. 1 Dustin Johnson has the most of anyone in the field. Johnson is actually the only golfer to have won all four legs of the WGC, as Tiger has not triumphed at the WGC-HSBC Champions, only making two starts there, where he finished T6 both times.
Golf has treated the 36-year-old Johnson well recently. Since the Tour re-start from the three-month COVID layoff, DJ has four victories worldwide, including a November breakthrough at The Masters for his second career major championship. He is also the reigning PGA Tour Player of the Year, being an obvious choice after capturing the FedExCup.
Johnson’s hold on the world No. 1 spot is massive, as he leads No. 2 Jon Rahm by a bigger margin than Rahm leads world No. 11 Patrick Reed. In addition to those four victories, DJ also has three runner-ups since last June and has placed inside the top 12 in his last 11 worldwide starts. His most recent win came two starts ago at the European Tour’s Saudi International.
Strangely, though, DJ is coming into The Workday off an un-DJ-like Sunday. At last week’s Genesis Invitational, an event he once won by five strokes, he went into the final round in a tie for 2nd place, just two back of 54-hole leader Sam Burns.
Playing in the final pairing with Burns and Matthew Fitzpatrick, Johnson was heavily favored to finish out front. After a modest front nine, DJ stumbled down the back, carding an uncharacteristic four back-nine bogeys on his way to a 1-over 72, which dropped him into a share of eighth place. There is likely no reason to panic, but it should be noted that he is coming into the week in something less than the torrid form he has sported since last summer.
4. A Long Ways From Hom(a)
The last player to make the field for this week’s WGC event was now-World No. 38 Max Homa, who is coming off a dream weekend after winning The Genesis Invitational at his hometown event on his hometown course.
Homa has stated that Riviera is the course and The Genesis is the event that made him fall in love with golf. In addition, the event was hosted by his boyhood idol, Tiger Woods, and all those emotions compounded could explain why he was so nervous on the 72nd hole, standing over a 3-foot birdie putt that would seal the deal. A collective gasp that was never heard because there was no fans was still palpable as Homa’s putt lipped out.
In that moment, Homa told multiple people that he “choked” in his attempt for a second career Tour victory, but the par, which featured an unbelievable approach to even get him in the position, kept him alive.
Homa would just need to take down world No. 15 Tony Finau, who was also desperately seeking his second career victory. Going to the 10th hole for the first playoff shot, he would have had his hopes dashed had he been left-handed. That is because his drive rested up against a tree, requiring a miraculous approach shot that he ended up landing on the green, leading to a par save. Another par on the second playoff hole, combined with a Finau bogey gave the championship to Homa.
Now the 30-year-old L.A. native will be attempting to go back-to-back by winning on the other side of the country, in what is just his third career start in a WGC event. He placed T61-T52 in his first two tries, but after back-to-back strong performances (he finished T7 at the previous week’s AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am), his confidence might be higher than it has ever been.
Homa will not be the only player in the field coming off a win; Daniel Berger took last week off after winning the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am in dramatic fashion, eagling the iconic final hole for his fourth career victory.
5. What More Can Finau Do?
Well… win is what he would probably say.
The OWGR goes back just 24 months. Tony Finau’s last win was 59 months ago, in a lighter-weighted opposite-field event in Puerto Rico (tied for the 10th most ranking points he has received for one event), yet the 31-year-old is still 13th in the current rankings, which should say something about how good he has been for the most part. He has finished runner-up in three straight tournaments, and has 10 total among 31 top 10s since that playoff win in the Caribbean.
At Riviera last week, there was not much more Finau could have done on Sunday. His 7-under 64 was the lowest round in the field by two strokes. He was able to get into a playoff with Homa, and in retrospect, it probably would have been better for Finau had Homa made that 3-footer on 18, but missed intermediate-length putts on both playoff holes, one that would have won the tournament, and the other which would have extended it.
If he keeps plugging away and staying in contention, probability says that he will eventually finish one off. The odds of things going the way they have are probably astronomical.
Finau will hope to finally get that breakthrough this week at The Concession. The form is clearly there, and he sounded encouraged that last weekend, he was beat more than he lost. Finau has not finished better than T25 in a WGC event since 2018 though.
6. Advantage: DeChambeau
An entirely new course to PGA Tour competition, a lack of familiarity could bring much more of the field legitimately into play. That being said, there is one player in the field who actually does have a history at The Concession: World No. 10 and reigning U.S. Open Champion Bryson DeChambeau.
At the 2015 NCAA Individual Championship, held at The Concession, the celebrated amateur out of SMU won by a stroke over South Korea’s C.T. Pan, who is not in the WGC field this week. DeChambeau finished at 8-under for the week, and while it would be unreasonable to expect the course to play exactly the same, the six-time Tour winner runs on confidence, and his good memories could bring him more.
Other players in this week’s field who were in attendance at the NCAA Championship that week include Jon Rahm (T22), Scottie Scheffler (T33), and Xander Schauffele (T45).