Mexico Open at Vidanta - Round One
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After a few weeks of somewhat dicey weather on the West Coast for the PGA Tour, the sunshine of the Mexico Open was a nice reprieve. And while the leaderboard is not what it was a week ago at Riviera Country Club during the Genesis Invitational, there are still plenty of interesting storylines near the top.

Erik van Rooyen leads after leading the field in approach play and shooting an 8-under 63. It could have been better, though; he was actually 8 under through 12 after making eagle at the par-5 12th hole but played the last six in even to finish at that number. 

It was good enough for a one-shot lead over Sami Valimaki and two over a handful of golfers congregated at 6 under just behind him. We'll take a closer look at his round and what to expect over the next few days of play at the Mexico Open.

The leader

1. Erik van Rooyen (-8)

Van Rooyen was spectacular for most of the day and went out in a 29 rooted in extraordinary approach play. His golf on the back was a bit choppier but still resulted in a round-of-the-day 63. Also, his eagle at the 12th was possibly the shot of the first day.

"Two eagles is pretty rare, right?" van Rooyen said after making the 3 on No. 12 and adding a 3 on the 6th hole as well. "It doesn't happen that often. If you can do that and you can kind of capitalize on the rest of the round, you're going to have 8 under like I did today, so that was obviously nice. I don't know what it is about Mexico. The food is amazing. This resort especially, it's pretty laid back. We've got great facilities here, beautiful hotel, so it's just quite a relaxing place and we have a good golf course to boot, so it's always just sort of good vibes."

This is not necessarily unexpected. Van Rooyen won just seven starts ago and has three top 25s since then. A win here would guarantee him access to the signature events, and even a top-five finish would likely push him into the top Aon Top 10, which is the group of players highest in the FedEx Cup rankings who are not already qualified for the signature events. 

There is a lot ahead of van Rooyen if he keeps playing like he is right now. 

Other contenders

2. Sami Valimaki (-7)

T3. David Lipsky, Henrik Norlander, Cristobal Del Solar, MJ Daffue (-6)

T7. Andrew Novak, Cameron Champ, Thorbjorn Olesen, Patrick Rodgers, Lanto Griffin, Matt Wallace, Joseph Bramlett (-5)

Champ fascinates me here. He was third in the field in driving distance and played his first nine holes in 30 (with a bogey!). He has not played good golf of late (four straight missed cuts), but he's the type of player who seems to pop up from out of nowhere to win random golf tournaments. This would qualify, and this course sets up well for him.

"I think the length of the golf course in the wind definitely favors longer guys," said Champ, who averaged 318 yards off the tee on Thursday. "All the par 5s today, even this morning, a couple of them I had to hit a good driver, 3-wood even to get to the front. For a guy that's longer, it's obviously an advantage."

Defending Tony

Tony Finau has been, ahem, pretty decent at this tournament over the last few years. Following a runner-up finish to Jon Rahm in 2022, Finau won this event a year ago with a 66 in the final round to beat Rahm by three shots. On Thursday, Finau shot a 2-under 69 but sits inside the top 30 going into the second round. Oddly, he struggled off the tee, but this was a case of one bad swing that cost him multiple shots. Finau's only crooked number on the card in Round 1 was a double at the par-4 8th where he hit his tee shot in the water and went on to make 6. Other than that, things went mostly as planned. But because of that one swing, he has a hole to dig himself out of on Friday.

Driving distance matters?

This golf course favors big hitters as much as any other course on the PGA Tour. That was my theory coming into the day anyway. The top of the leaderboard sort of proves that as half of the top 14 players on the leaderboard were among the 25 longest off the tee. However, you also have Norlander, Lipsky and Novak, all in the top seven, all of whom were outside the top 100 in driving distance in Round 1. It was a mixed bag on Thursday and one that I'm curious about over the next few days.

Rick Gehman and Mark Immelman recap the opening round of the Mexico Open at Vidanta. Follow & listen to The First Cut on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

2024 Mexico Open updated odds, picks

Odds via SportsLine consensus

  • Erik van Rooyen: 9/2
  • Sami Valimaki: 10-1
  • Thorbjorn Olesen: 11-1
  • Nicolai Hojgaard: 12-1
  • Tony Finau: 16-1
  • Patrick Rodgers: 16-1
  • Cameron Champ: 18-1

I wanted to take Champ before the tournament started when he was more like 45-1 or longer, but he's been so bad recently that I just couldn't. Now his odds are one-third of what they started at. The play for me here is Hojgaard. He's been awesome all year, is among the longest players in the field and is 3 under, five back of the lead but just three back of second place after 18 holes. I love that at 12-1.