Mexico Open In-Tournament Picks and Prediction: Look for Arron Rai, Charles Howell to Make Runs

Andy Lack gives us his in-tournament picks and analysis for the Mexico Open. Find out who presents the most value at the halfway point.
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Mexico Open In-Tournament Picks and Prediction: Look for Arron Rai, Charles Howell to Make Runs

  • Current Leader: Jon Rahm (-12)
  • Course: Vidanta Vallarta
  • Round 3 Start Time: 7:53 AM ET
  • Purse: $7,300,000

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Mexico Championship In-Tournament Prediction

We've officially reached the midway point of the Mexico Championship, and once again we are in far too familiar territory. With 36 holes to play, sportsbooks are essentially telling us that it's one man against the field. This week might even be the most extreme example, as Jon Rahm can be currently be found at -125 to win the Mexico Championship via the OddsChecker golf grid. This suggests a win probability of 56%, the highest we've seen through two rounds this season.

Last week, the team of Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele were in a similar position at the Zurich Classic. The Ryder Cup duo were +135 to triumph with 36 holes to go, and I argued in this column that they were actually undervalued at that price. +135 implies a win probability of 43%, and I had them closer to 53%, so it was an easy bet to make that, fortunately, ended up cashing. The situation we are in with Rahm certainly has some parallels. Before tee off on Thursday, we knew that Rahm was the best player in this field by a healthy margin. He was the shortest pre-tournament favorite of the season at +350, and his strongest opposition were the likes of Tony Finau, Gary Woodland, Kevin Na, and Patrick Reed, who are quite simply in a class below the reigning U.S. Open champion.

Through 36 holes, Rahm has been even more dominant than I expected. Rounds of 64 and 66 place him on top of the leaderboard by two over PGA Tour rookie Alex Smalley. At least as it stands on Friday evening, Rahm has not run away with it... yet. 17 players sit within five strokes of his lead.

The best argument I can make against Rahm is that on both Thursday and Friday, the wind really picked up in the afternoon. Rahm will have the latest tee time tomorrow and experience the most difficult of conditions. There will be players within five strokes of him teeing off hours before him, with a chance to take advantage of more benign conditions.

Ultimately, Rahm is still the most likely winner of this tournament. Data golf has his true win probability at 52.5%, and his odds suggest his win probability is 56%. If Rahm could be had at even money, I would probably be in, but I just find him hard to endorse at such a hefty price tag.

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Aaron Rai

Instead, I will turn my attention to Aaron Rai, who can be found as high as +3200 at BetMGM via the OddsChecker golf grid. Rounds of 64 and 69 place the Englishman in a tie for ninth at eight under par. Rai was a player I was extremely high on pre-tournament for his trending long-iron play, ability to score on Par 5s, and winning pedigree. Through two rounds, the two-time DP World Tour winner has gained strokes in all four major categories, yet there is still some room for improvement with the flat-stick. Rai ranks an impressive sixth in strokes gained tee-to-green, but only 48th in strokes gained putting.

Making up four shots on Rahm will not be easy, but in a tournament filled with mostly un-proves, I at least want someone who has been there before. Rai shot a final round 64 to track down Tommy Fleetwood at the 2020 Scottish Open, ultimately besting him in a playoff. Two years prior, he nearly won wire-to-wire at the 2018 Honma Hong Kong Open, holding off a hard-charging Matthew Fitzpatrick. The former DP World Tour stalwart has had a seamless transition to the PGA Tour as well. A 15th at the Mayakoba shows a comfortability on Paspalum greens, and a sixth at Torrey Pines displays an affinity for longer courses. I expect Rai to stay relevant as the weekend progresses.

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Charles Howell III

For my second selection, I will dive farther down the odds board and suggest Charles Howell III, who can be found as high as +6600 on BetMGM via the OddsChecker golf grid. Believe it or not, Howell has hit the ball every bit as well as Rahm through two rounds. Rahm has gained 7.10 strokes from tee to green, and Howell has gained 7.08. The only difference between the two is that Rahm has gained 4.06 strokes putting, and Howell has lost 0.92. Five strokes separate two, and it has all come with a flat stick. Howell and Rahm played together on Thursday and Friday, and Howell matched the World No. 2 shot for shot, a sentence I did not imagine I would be typing late on Friday afternoon.

The signs of such a ball-striking display were there for the PGA Tour veteran. Just two starts ago, Howell gained 10.6 strokes from tee to green en route to a fourth-place finish at the Valero Texas Open, good for the fifth-best tee to green performance of his nearly two-decade-long career. Of course, the only reason why Howell did not claim victory in Texas was because he lost 1.8 strokes putting.

The 42-year-old may be in for a similar fate this week, but I like that he tees off over an hour before Rahm, and will play at least five holes in easier conditions. The putter will certainly need to get going for Howell to have a chance, but it did slightly improve in round two. More importantly, the ball-striking remained potent despite playing in far windier conditions. There are only four players who have struck the ball as well or better than Rahm thus far: Tony Finau, Alex Smalley, Kevin Na, and Charles Howell. Finau and Na are too far back at -3 and -5 respectively, and Smalley is far too unproven. I'll take my chances with +6600 on Howell, which can hopefully provide a sweat come Sunday afternoon.

Mexico Open Picks

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Andy Lack is a PGA Tour writer and podcaster from Manhattan, New York. Andy came to OddsChecker in January 2022 after previously writing for Golf Digest, GolfWRX, Rotoballer, and the Score. Andy is also the host of a golf betting and daily fantasy podcast, Inside Golf Podcast, as well as "The Scramble” with Rick Gehman, and a recurring guest on the Pat Mayo Experience. In his free time, Andy is still grinding away at his lifelong dream of qualifying for the U.S. Amateur, and if not writing, can likely be found somewhere on a golf course.

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