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Wentworth is one of the highlights of the golfing calendar for me and our annual return to the famous Surrey parkland course starts the run-up to the second Major Championship, the US Open, in a little over 3 weeks' time. The winner of this event gets an automatic invitation to Oakmont if they've not already qualified, however for many this will be as much about taking a share of the generous €5m prize fund that can make a real difference in the Race To Dubai standings as well as providing a real boost for those with Ryder Cup aspirations. A 5-year European Tour exemption also awaits the winner, although of more importance to the top players is the fact of simply winning such a prestigious event that many Europeans class in a category not a million miles away from a Major Championship.
As the European Tour's flagship event, we've typically seen a very healthy turnout from the best players that the European Tour has to offer over the years. Sadly this year the attendee list is missing a number of important names which must be sending ever louder alarm bells through European Tour HQ. Rory McIlroy, who the European Tour bent over backwards to accommodate in last season's Race to Dubai despite the World No.3 not having completed the minimum number of appearances, has chosen to give this event a miss, as has Race To Dubai No.3 Louis Oosthuizen, No.5 Henrik Stenson, No.7 Branden Grace and No.9 Charl Schwartzel. Sergio Garcia is also missing as is Justin Rose who has cited a back issue as his reason for not attending. Not great Mr. Pelley it has to be said.
Over on the PGA Tour, Steve Bamford previews the re-named Dean & Deluca Invitational played at Colonial Country Club - you can read his thoughts on that event here.
West Course, Wentworth, Surrey, England. Designer: Harry Colt, 1926 with Els re-design 2010; Course Type: Technical, Classical; Par: 72; Length: 7,302 yards; Fairways: Bentgrass, Fescue, Poa Annua; Rough: Rye, Fescue; Greens: Colonial Bentgrass, 10' on the stimp.
Course Overview. Wentworth's West Course needs little introduction and after a reasonably mild winter the track is expected to be presented in perfect condition. The 7,302 yard par-72 is a classical, tree-lined affair with the premium squarely placed on tee-to-green excellence following the Ernie Els remodelling in 2010. Rough isn't so much the issue here; trees and strategically placed bunkers are far more likely to be the undoing of those drifting from the straight and narrow. The course closes with the iconic back-to-back par 5s that are pivotal to securing a good round and often play a large part in determining who will triumph come Sunday evening.
Tournament Stats. We've published some key player statistics for this week's BMW PGA Championship that will help to shape a view on players who traditionally play well at this event: Current Form | Tournament Form | First Round Leader Stats | Top 20 Finishes.
Predictor Model. Our published Predictor Model is available here. As always you can build your own model using the variables available.
Winners & Prices. 2015: Byeong-Hun An, 100/1; 2014: Rory McIlroy, 14/1; 2013: Matteo Manassero, 66/1; 2012: Luke Donald, 8/1; 2011: Luke Donald, 15/2; 2010: Simon Khan, 200/1. For a summary of winners' odds on the European Tour for the past 5 years based on the 2016 schedule click here.
Weather Forecast. The latest weather forecast for the area is here. The tournament will enjoy pleasant spells of sunshine and temperatures in the low 70s Fahrenheit for the first two days before the likelihood of showery rain develops over the weekend, accompanied by a breeze of 10-15 mph.
Bookmaker Offers. A number of bookmakers have extended their each-way terms again this week plus there's a couple of other offers out there:
Tournament Trends & Key Factors.
Analysing the final stats of the last 6 winners here since 2010 gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this test:
With slightly less challenging conditions over the past 3 renewals and winning scores in double-digits under par, the key to scoring sufficiently to contend has been in mastering the par 5s. The top 5 finishers last year were 49-under for the par 5s on the week; similarly in 2014, 2013 and 2012 the top 5 were 58, 41 and 40-under for the par 5s respectively. Also worth noting is that every player finishing in the top 5 or better in that time, excluding Rory McIlroy in 2014, played the par 3s under par for the week also - indeed Benny An was -6 for the par 3s on the week compared to just -3 for all of the par 4s combined. So in effect this is a case of play the par 3s well, score heavily on the par 5s and hang on around the remainder of the course's tough par 4s. A solid tee-to-green display should suffice as opposed to anything approaching Adilson Da Silva level accuracy, however a strong short game to minimise bogeys when greens are missed is a must in my opinion. This is a strong all-round test and contenders can't be lacking in any particular area of their game this week.
The three short-priced winners (McIlroy and Donald twice) entered the event off the back of some strong form and at least 2 consecutive top 10s immediately prior to victory here. Donald backers should note that both of his wins followed excellent early season performances which, in both instances, produced some silverware in the lead up to his success over the West Course. Manassero's form was less obvious with a couple of top 20s in his previous 4 outings, whereas Simon Khan's win came from completely off the page as a late sponsor's invitation. Last year's winner Byeong-Hun An arrived with immediate form of 8/15 and had a further two top-10 finishes to his name for the year to date.
Given his recent form, the 100/1 about Ben An last year is best explained by the fact that it was his Wentworth debut and, at the time, he was still a European Tour maiden. Until then, recent winners here had produced a top-10 or better over the West Course in either its previous or current guise, suggesting that positive experience of this part of Surrey in some shape or form was pretty critical. Wentworth hadn't been Rory McIlroy's favourite stomping ground prior to victory in 2014, however he had produced a top-5 on his second attempt in 2009; Matteo Manassero had finished 7th two years prior to victory which followed his 17th place finish on debut; Luke Donald had finished 3rd in 2008 and 2nd in 2010 prior to his back-to-back wins in 2011 and 2012; even 'surprise' 2010 winner Simon Khan had previously finished 2nd at Wentworth 4 years previously, so his ability to play the course shouldn't have been a total shock - which he again proved in 2013 when making the play-off.
All things considered, my selections are as follows:
With no dominant market leader here this week, the door would appear to be open for a number of attendees to secure what is still a prestigious title carrying many benefits, despite the relatively poor entry list. Danny Willett must be respected of course as the Masters champion, but last week's implosion over the final 5 holes once again shows how fickle this game can be and the media commitments and expectations for Danny this week will be immense. Russell Knox played very well from a poor draw last week recovering from an opening 75 to finish in a tie for 2nd, however at that kind of price I'd far prefer someone with positive Wentworth experience and predictor no.1 selection Shane Lowry has that in spades here this week.
Playing with the hope and expectation of a home crowd isn't easy as Rory McIlroy's record in the Irish Open until Sunday proved, however to his great credit Lowry battled to the end despite having to endure the worst of the conditions on Thursday and Friday to finish in a never-nearer 23rd courtesy of a bogey-free final round at the K Club. With the weather impacting the draw to the tune of nearly 4 shots between the lucky and unlucky side, Shane was always playing catch-up and to produce a ranking of 4th for Total Driving, 6th for Ball-Striking and 2nd All Round having been dealt a duff hand shouldn't be ignored. Granted, there were others who topped the Irishman's effort from similarly poor positions, however there are few with his WGC winning pedigree and positive record around these parts and, for me, he's the man to beat this week.
At his best the 29 year-old is an excellent ball-striker with the length to take on the all important par 5s here. 2nd at the British Masters at Woburn is an interesting pointer for this week, however there's nothing more tangible than his record here at Wentworth itself where he's made the cut six out of six times, finished inside the top-6 on three occasions and pushed Rory McIlroy all the way to the end when finishing 2nd in 2014. He seemed to fully get to grips with the tee-to-green challenge here last year when ranking inside the top-4 for both Total Driving and Ball Striking and combined with his 1.58 putting average on these greens the previous year there'd be very little to challenge that if he could put it all together for four days here. This is a title that the beefy newlywed would dearly love to win and with confidence growing with his new driver I'd expect him to be in the mix here this week with very little in front of him that's likely to scare him. RESULT: MC
Before Ben An rewrote the Wentworth rulebook last year by winning on debut - and his maiden European Tour victory to boot - the general consensus was that positive experience of this Surrey parkland track was a pre-requisite. One man whose record here cannot be argued with is Luke Donald and with his swing back on track and the lure of a 5th Ryder Cup appearance if he can produce some fireworks over the next few months, this week sets up as a huge opportunity for the Englishman.
In this field only Miguel Angel Jimenez gets close to the 38 year-old's fantastic strokeplay record on this track both pre-and-post the Els changes with 6 top 10s, 5 top 5s and 2 wins from his 11 visits here. Even when struggling with his game Donald has to be shortlisted when returning to tracks where he's had considerable success in the past and to rubber-stamp that assertion he finished 2nd at the RBC Heritage last month to secure his 6th top-3 there in 8 attempts. "Certainly coming to a place you've won, you know that the course sets up pretty well for you; this place, Hilton Head, Tampa, there's certain courses where even despite not having my best, I'm able to get into contention somehow", he said before finishing 3rd here in 2014 and with his game in better shape right now with four top-26 finishes in his last seven events, plus with a number of high-profile names not here, I suspect he'll have earmarked this as his biggest opportunity of his first global win for 4 years.
Aside from his effort at Hilton Head, Donald's most positive recent form has come in the British Isles with 7th at the Scottish Open, 12th at the Open Championship and 5th at Woburn last season all decent enough efforts. He'll be back later in the year to host the British Masters at The Grove, however before then he could well secure a decent finish - or even complete his hat-trick of Wentworth trophies - here this week. RESULT: T27
The BMW PGA Championship is a huge title with which to break your European Tour duck, however if we're going to see a repeat performance of Ben An's effort from 12 months ago then Tyrrell Hatton is the most likely candidate in my view. The similarities between the two players are there for all to see - the same age (24), both clearly talented ball-strikers seeking their maiden victory at this level and arriving in decent enough form: An had finished 8th at the China Open then 15th the week before arriving here at Wentworth; Hatton has finished 12th, 13th and 5th over his past 3 events and that most recent effort was from the poor side of the draw last week in Ireland. An had recorded strong Total Driving, Ball-Striking and All Round efforts over those two most immediate events so top-10 performances on all three counts for Hatton at Shenzhen and Beijing both bode well. To top it all, the Englishman has recorded putting efforts of 1.61 (2nd in field) and 1.62 (4th) over his last 5 events which mimics An's 1.61 effort in China prior to victory. Yes, a lot of numbers, however the similarities are striking and if we're looking for a blueprint of success based on last year's result then Hatton could well be our man.
Hatton was born and bred in nearby High Wycombe and now resides the other side of the M4 to Wentworth in Marlow, Bucks and used to watch this championship as a child before progressing through the ranks. Two weekends made from his two attempts at the BMW PGA Championship isn't to be sniffed at as a young professional and the world no. 107 is much improved as his game has continued to mature. 'Hatton's Army' will be there once again to cheer on their idol and, with an improving short game to compliment his tee-to-green excellence, I can see him posting a very strong personal best here this week. RESULT: T7
My shortlist for this event wasn't very short at all it has to be said and the likes of course specialist Marc Warren, who showed glimpses of form last week before fading, new father Richie Ramsay whose accurate game should suit, plus longer shots Felipe Aguilar, Fabrizio Zanotti and Richard Bland all miss out on my final team. To finish though I'm following the statistical route from tee-to-green that was so successful for Ben An last year and Rory the year before that I highlighted in my Tyrrell Hatton selection above.
Firstly, Peter Hanson who's impressed with his long game since returned from injury. The 38 year-old has battled with persistent health issues throughout his career having reached a high of 17th in the OWGR back in 2012 courtesy of 6 European Tour victories to add to another 7 professional successes over the years. A current ranking of 244th is a little misleading as the Swede is far better than that and 6 consecutive paid weekends culminating in 6th place finish in China before missing the weekend from a poor draw in Ireland speaks volumes; his long game has been exceptional over the past few weeks which suggests to me that he could go well here this week. Prior to Ireland, Peter had recorded Total Driving ranks of 4th, 5th and 8th on his previous 3 outings, complimented by Ball-Striking performances of 2nd, 4th and 2nd - given how the past two renewals have shaped up here and with the promise of similar conditions again this week, those sort of foundations could prove to be critical to success. Finished 5th here in 2005 way before Ernie Els made his changes and finished a positive 27th here 12 months ago having previously missed three cuts on the spin following his return from his latest ailment. RESULT: T33
Finally I'm going to give the undoubted talent that is Brandon Stone a chance here on competitive debut at an unmissable price. Perhaps the bookies will get caught once again by ignoring an in-form ball-striking talent who's only real negative is his lack of experience around this track and, if that's the case, then I'm happy to be on board. A first professional victory in Cape Town last November on the Sunshine Tour wasn't overly unexpected given the promise and potential that the 23 year-old had shown as an amateur, however that 5-stroke victory was clearly just for starters as he promptly went on to win the South African Open at the start of the year on the tree-lined layout at Glendower, rallying after seemingly having blown his chance on Sunday. Since then finishes of 10th at the Tshwane Open, 6th and 2nd on a couple of Sunshine Tour events, then 2nd at Shenzhen and 6th in Mauritius on the European Tour suggests that he's hungry for more silverware. Like some of my other selections, Stone was caught on the wrong side of the draw in Ireland to match his missed cut in Spain - perhaps we're starting to see a pattern unfolding where Brandon favours the calmer, ball-striking tracks and if that's the case then a decent forecast here at Wentworth combined with a strong tee-to-green effort at the Shenzhen International (4th for Total Driving, 2nd for Ball-Striking) would all seem to be pointing in the same direction. Ernie Els was Stone's idol as a child and having played with him for the first time earlier this year at the Joburg Open, perhaps winning a golf tournament on one of his designs would be another tick on his personal list of objectives. RESULT: MC
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