Oosthuizen leads WGC-Mexico Championship, but Paisley, Schauffele and Sharma just one back
March 01, 2018
By Cameron Morfit, PGATOUR.COM
Louis Oosthuizen leads by one after 18 holes at Mexico Championship
MEXICO CITY – The golf ball doesn’t know how famous you are.
If that wasn’t apparent already, it surely was after the first round of the World Golf Championships-Mexico Championship, when at one point Jordan Spieth turned to Rickie Fowler and asked if he knew anything about this “Paisley” on the leaderboard.
“I said, ‘I’m pretty sure it’s Chris,’” Fowler said. “‘It’s the only Paisley I know.’”
Indeed, it was.
Chris Paisley, 31, who in 2009 played for Great Britain and Ireland against Fowler and the rest of the Yanks in the Walker Cup, needed only 23 putts and topped the leaderboard for much of the day before a late bogey gave him an opening-round 65 at Club de Golf Chapultepec. India’s Shubhankar Sharma came in with the same score after a brief lightning delay, as did last year’s Rookie of the Year, Xander Schauffele.
The three trailed only South Africa’s Louis Oosthuizen (64) after the opening round.
Oosthuizen? Well, sure. He’s a proven commodity on TOUR. So is Schauffele after winning twice last season as a rookie. As for those other two guys in the top four, well…
“It’s somewhat surreal,” said Paisley, who is playing in his first WGC and his first PGA TOUR event. He got to 7-under on the day, but got tight and promptly bogeyed the 16th hole. He salvaged up-and-down pars on his final two holes; signed his card; briefly met with the media; and kissed his wife, Keri, a former middle school math teacher from Tennessee.
The WGCs are always chock full of luminaries, but on this day, the stars were outshone by lesser-known players. Sharma, 21, is an up-and-comer in Europe, where he’s won twice this season and leads the Race to Dubai. The bigger surprise was Paisley, who won for the first time at the Euro Tour’s BMW SA Open earlier this season with Keri on the bag—Sean Russell, Paisley’s regular caddie, was on vacation—and then chased that with fifth-place finishes in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
In a span of less than a month, Paisley had gone from 282 to 82 in the world ranking. If he keeps soaring up the rankings, he could be looking at a possible berth in the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, and maybe even the Masters after that.
“Lots of little things,” Paisley said of the difference this year. “I’ve generally not been that good off the tee. This last year I’ve started hitting it longer and straighter. And I’m just getting more experienced, and gaining confidence.”
In part, he has his countrymen to thank. He and Tommy Fleetwood have known each other since they were teenagers, and played in the Walker Cup together. “Obviously, he’s done better than I have,” said Paisley, who played for Tennessee and winters in Orlando. “Tyrell Hatton also took off. And Matt Fitzpatrick. Those guys are really good players, and I see myself as maybe not quite as good, but I thought if they’re doing that well, then I should be doing better than what I am.”
As for the awe factor, Paisley added that seeing players like Dustin Johnson at select European Tour events has helped demystify everything at Chapultepec.
“I was actually surprised by how many guys I knew,” he said. “Obviously going into a WGC is a new event, new experience, I didn't really know what to expect. But I know all the European guys, and then know a lot -- there's a lot of guys around my age that I played with in college, like Brian Harman and Patton Kizzire, all those guys that I haven't seen for a long time.
“I knew them so I didn't feel over-awed this week,” he added. “I think with the form I've had, and the kind of confidence I've got in my game, I was just more excited to see what I could do against them.”
Chris Paisley's marvelous birdie putt at Mexico Championship
OOSTY BACK FROM VACATION. Louis Oosthuizen (64) likes to go back to South Africa and relax in the winter, which is why he’s been mostly out of sight. He went 5-over for his last six holes to fire a final-round 75 and tie for 24th at The Honda Classic last week, but that was his only TOUR start in 2018. “I’m very confident with my driver at the moment,” Oosthuizen said at Chapultepec. “Had a nice little cut going with it, just aiming it a little left and just swing away.”
SCHAUFFELE ENJOYS ‘BORING’ 65. The reigning Rookie of the Year went bogey-free for a 65, or what he deemed “kind of a fun yet boring day.” He said he was inspired by watching fellow high school Class of 2011 member Justin Thomas win The Honda Classic last week. “I think all the young guys are kind of fighting for the top,” Schauffele said, “and motivated by what he’s doing.”
RAHM PICKS UP WHERE LEFT OFF. Jon Rahm of Spain has said playing in Mexico feels like a home away from home, and he proved it again Thursday. Coming off a two-week break, and with fond memories of his T3 at last year’s WGC-Mexico Championship, Rahm shot a 4-under 67. He also bested playing partners Dustin Johnson (69) and Justin Thomas (72) after flaring his opening shot off the 10th tee. “After the first tee shot I hit today,” he said, “if you had told me I was going to shoot 4-under-par, I would have been jumping up and down with happiness.”
Jon Rahm's incredible hook shot from 234 yards at Mexico Championship
Justin Thomas – Just four days after winning The Honda Classic, the FedExCup leader (and defending champion) fought his swing and signed for a 72.
Dustin Johnson – Defending WGC-Mexico champion wasn’t at his best, but laughed it off after 2-under 69.
Jordan Spieth – Ho-hum start saw him make little on the greens and settle for 1-under 70.
Rickie Fowler – Started birdie-birdie at the short par-4 first and second holes, but didn’t make much on the greens after that on the way to a 3-under 68.
Bubba Watson – At 7-under through 11 holes seemed to be a threat to the course record (63) until the wheels came off. Watson went bogey, double-bogey, bogey on holes 3-5, failed to birdie the par-5 sixth, and bogeyed 8, as well. He signed for a 2-under 69.
Phil Mickelson – Slow start to his round, but rallied on his second nine, the front, for a 2-under 69. Came into this week on the strength of three straight top-10 finishes.
QUOTABLESSometimes you hit good putts and they miss. You’ve got to be really patient on Poa annua.It’s probably the worst I’ve ever felt over the ball in my life.
Low round: 7-under 64 by Louis Oosthuizen.
Longest drive: 401 yds (Brendan Steele/No. 10)
Longest putt: 53’ 9” (Kevin Kisner/No. 8)
Toughest hole: Par-3 7th (3.328)
CALL OF THE DAY