Mexico Open at Vidanta: A new event for the PGA Tour but one with a strong heritage

An event that was first played in 1944 this year graduates to the top tier.

Surely the greatest-ever Challenge Tour curiosity is not that Phil Mickelson is among the many players to win on the that second tier and then later become a Major Champion, but that he earned his success at EuroDisney of all places.

Now comes the second best oddity for the circuit: the Mexico Open becomes the first Challenge Tour event to graduate to the PGA Tour.

The event was first played in 1944 and in the early years it was the Al Espinosa retirement fund as the Californian golfer utilised his Mexican background to lift the title four times.

Soon after it was the Argentinian star Roberto Di Vicenzo who thrived, winning three times and finishing runner-up five times in the 14 years from 1950.

It continued to entice plenty of big names and many of them triumphed - Bobby Locke, Tony Lema, Lee Trevino, Billy Casper, Ben Crenshaw, David Graham among them.

By the 1990s the golf schedule was so rammed with big events the tournament become more of a step-up event, allowing the likes of Chris Perry, Stewart Cink and Esteban Toledo to fuel their rise to the PGA Tour.

Then came a new era: in 2003 it joined the Tour de las Americas, in 2004 it was co-sanctioned by the Challenge Tour, in 2008 it became a Korn Ferry Tour event, and in 2013 it landed on the PGA Tour LatinoAmerica.

Now it hits the big time.

The field is not strong, but the opportunity is great.

A new venue

The host venue Vidanta Vallarta has three layouts, but the tournament will take place on the Greg Norman Signature Course.

It has plenty of water features, including a river, and is overlooked by the Sierra Nevada mountains.

If a Greg Norman designed in Mexico sounds familiar then these details might too - the grass is paspalum grass and the par is 71.

Four factors and every one of them reminiscent of El Camaleon, home of what was the Mayakoba Classic and is now the Worldwide Technology Championship.

What isn't similar is that El Camaleon is very breezy and by the sea.

However, winds of 20mph are in the forecast so maybe it might be a factor worth considering.

A bigger difference might be length: this week it is 7,456 yards, at El Camaleon it is 7,017.

At the latter, the clingy grass helps players stay on the fairways; here it might hinder the short and accurate (the fairways are wide as well as long).

The field

Jon Rahm is the clear favourite, followed by local hero Abraham Ancer then the big hitters Gary Woodland and Tony Finau.

Patrick Reed is also teeing it up, but he's out of form.

Most of the world's elite are aware that there is a busy summer ahead so they're taking the week off.

Home hopes

Ancer landed his first win on the PGA Tour last year in the WGC St Jude Invitational and he has not finished outside the top 15 in his last four starts on home soil.

He is also a member at TPC San Antonio which hosts the Texas Open and is another Greg Norman creation.

The other main home contender is Carlos Ortiz who, despite being completely out of form, has another fine record in Mexico.

He has four top 20s in his last four starts at home including a pair of seconds at El Camaleon, he also won on the second tier in his home country and he represents the resort, meaning he's played the course a fair bit.

The El Camaleon connection

Will it play out? Same country, same designer, same par, same grass and also strong wind. But what about a player with a good El Camaleon record who can also hit it long from the tee?

Tony Finau has a top 10 at El Camaleon, as does Cameron Champ.

Aaron Wise can also put it out there and he has a deeper record in the Mayakoba.

He was T10th in 2018, second in 2020 and T15th last year.

When last seen he was third at halfway and fifth with 18 holes to play in The Heritage, eventually finishing T21st.

READ MORE: Tiger & Phil: Golf's most fascinating rivalry - review of Bob Harig's new book

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