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After a few near misses of late, it was pleasing to see last week's headline selection Adrian Otaegui secure his second European Tour title by winning the inaugural Belgian Knockout in fine style. The Spaniard was impressive pretty much throughout the four days and took advantage of a decent break midway through the final to eventually run out the deserved winner. Following on from his Paul Lawrie Match Play victory, the 25 year-old will undoubtedly be on every punter's radar in any future Match Play events, however he's more than a one trick pony in my view and I wouldn't be at all surprised to see his career push on significantly over the next year or two.
On to this week then and the BMW PGA Championship at 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 Shinnecock Hills if they've not already qualified, however for many this will be as much about taking a share of the generous $7m prize fund that can make a real difference in the Race To Dubai standings as well as a providing a head start in this season's Rolex Series which begins this week.
Whilst the event may not be classed as the European Tour's 'flagship event' nowadays with the advent of the Rolex Series, it has nevertheless attracted a classy enough field with the likes of Rory McIlroy and Paul Casey from the OWGR top 10 as well as a plethora of top 50 players including Tommy Fleetwood, defending champion Alex Noren, Tyrrell Hatton, Rafa Cabrera-Bello, Ian Poulter and many more. McIlroy has been installed as the clear favourite at around the 8/1 mark having withdrawn from last year's renewal after an MRI scan revealed a flare up of his rib issue 12 months ago and, despite missing the cut on his last start at TPC Sawgrass, he's undoubtedly this week's star attraction.
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Over on the PGA Tour, Steve Bamford previews the Fort Worth Invitational - you can read his preview for that event here.
West Course, Wentworth, Surrey, England. Designer: Harry Colt, 1926 with Els re-design 2009/2016; Course Type: Classical; Par: 72; Length: 7,284 yards; Fairways: Bentgrass, Fescue, Poa Annua; Rough: Rye, Fescue; Greens: Creeping Bentgrass.
Course Overview. A week after Chris Wood's victory here in 2016, Wentworth began its second major transformation under the guidance of Ernie Els. This time, with the help of European Golf Design, the brief was to return the course back closer to the original vision conceived by Harry Colt but with consideration for how golf has developed in modern times. Whereas the changes implemented by Els and his team back in 2009, with a few subsequent revisions, toughened the track up with a series of relatively severe features, these latest changes softened the course to a degree, particularly on and around the greens. It's fair to say that the 2009 changes came in for a fair amount of criticism leading to an increasing number of players boycotting the event as time went by, however the revamped West Course was well received last year and resulted in a classy winner in the shape of Alex Noren who scythed his way through the field with an outstanding final round of 62 to win by 2 shots.
The layout and routing wasn't altered during the 2016 renovations, however in total 29 bunkers were removed from the track completely and all remaining bunkers were reconstructed and generally softened to make the course more playable. A sub-air system, as per Augusta National, was installed on all 18 greens and the putting surfaces were stripped and re-laid with creeping bentgrass to replace the tired and inconsistent bent/poa mix. The 3rd, 4th, 5th, 12th and 15th greens were rebuilt to a degree whereas the 8th, 11th, 14th and 16th were completely overhauled in a bid to make the surfaces more amenable. The entrances to a number of greens were opened too as part of the changes to encourage more shot-making options and to make them more accessible from the ground, in turn allowing balls to roll onto the greens as per Colt's original concept here.
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 | Combined Stats.
Predictor Model. Our published Predictor Model is available here. As always you can build your own model using the variables available.
Winners & Prices. 2017: Alex Noren, 20/1; 2016: Chris Wood, 66/1; 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 8 years based on the 2017 schedule click here.
Weather Forecast. The latest weather forecast for the area is here. After a particularly cold winter in the UK, spring has sprung and the grass and trees have been growing rapidly for the past few weeks under some sunny skies. More sunshine is expected this week with temperatures reaching the mid-70s Fahrenheit over the weekend, although there's a fair chance of rain at times and the potential for some thundery downpours particularly on Thursday and Friday. There will be a fairly constant 10mph breeze throughout the event which will make club selection tricky as it swirls around the trees.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors.
Analysing the final stats of the last 8 winners here since 2010 gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this test:
Hit two thirds of fairways, three quarters of greens and scramble and putt in the top dozen or so and you'll be there or thereabouts is pretty much how recent winners since the original Els re-design have got the job done. Even when weather conditions have led to higher or lower scores, it's still tended to be players who've done sufficiently well in all aspects of their game who've prevailed here. Traditionally this has been a strong all-round test and contenders can't be lacking in any particular area of their game this week if they want to succeed. Aside from a solid tee-to-green game from last year's top-5 finishers on the revamped West Course, what was eye-catching in terms of stats was that each of them ranked inside the top-8 for scrambling on the week.
The reality of the course changes last year was that it wasn't necessarily easier to score, but the course was generally fairer to all and ultimately 11-under was good enough to see Alex Noren over the line, a score which certainly doesn't look out of line with recent years.
Par 5 & Par 3 scoring: In recent times, the key to scoring sufficiently well to contend on the West Course has been in mastering the par 5s. The top 5 finishers last year were a combined 38-under par for the par 5s compared to just 1-under on the par 4s. With tough conditions in 2016, the top 6 finishers were a combined 40-under par on the par 5s compared to +8 on the par 4s; similarly in 2015, 2014, 2013 and 2012 the top 5 were 49, 58, 41 and 40-under for the par 5s respectively.
Also worth noting is that most players finishing in the top 5 or better in that time (Francesco Molinari last year, Thomas Aiken in 2016 and Rory McIlroy in 2014 are the exceptions), played the par 3s at level par of better for the week - indeed Alex Noren was -3 for the par 3s on the week compared to the same score 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.
Incoming Form: 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. 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. 2015 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. 2016 winner Chris Wood had finished 54th in Ireland the week before winning here which was his first event for over a month - 8th at the Dubai Desert Classic had been the Bristolian's best effort of the year to date. Last year's winner Alex Noren had won 4 times the previous season and although he'd not taken any further silverware in 2017 up to the point of his victory here, he had made the quarter-finals of the WGC Match Play before finishing a creditable 10th at TPC Sawgrass in elite company on his last start.
Course Form: Given his recent form, the 100/1 about Ben An in 2015 was best explained by the fact that it was his Wentworth debut and, at the time, he was still a European Tour maiden. Until then, and including Alex Noren last year and Chris Wood the year before, 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 nevertheless 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. Event form prior to winning since 2010 as follows:
This classical, tree-lined track is at its most challenging when the wind blows - even a 10-15 mph breeze can play havoc with club selection as it whistles around the treetops - and we should expect that type of challenge pretty much throughout the week which should help keep a lid on scoring. For me this is a combination of solid all-round play, bogey avoidance and some positive course experience.
All things considered, my selections are as follows:
Rory McIlroy is the deserved favourite this week as the highest ranked player in the field and a former winner at Wentworth, however at a best-priced 8/1 punters will need to overlook some indifferent form here, aside from that 2014 victory, as well as a disappointing weekend off at TPC Sawgrass after some erratic driving and ironplay. The former world number 1 can win here this week of course, of that there should be no debate, however short-priced winners here have tended to arrive in excellent form and despite winning at Bay Hill in March, I'm not sure that subsequent form of 36/5/16/MC can be described as such. A case could be made for defending champion Alex Noren, Tommy Fleetwood and Paul Casey who are all around the 14/1 mark, however for me there's more value a little further down the field with Matthew Fitzpatrick being the pick of the bunch in my view.
The 23 year-old started the season off well with a 3rd place finish in Abu Dhabi which promised much in Ryder Cup year, however 3 missed cuts from 4 starts plus an early exit from the WGC Match Play followed as he was quite vocal about his game not being quite right. 38th at Augusta might not sound too inspiring, however 4th for driving accuracy on the week and an impressive Saturday round of 67 may well prove to have been the turning point of his season when we look back later in the year and 14th at Harbour Town followed in decent company, where he ranked 5th for all-round performance on the week. 46th at TPC Sawgrass on his last start might not jump off the page, however 5th for GIR is another positive sign that the Sheffield lad's all-important long game is back where he wants it to be and that bodes well on a strict tree-lined examination such as Wentworth. Indeed Alex Noren had also produced an eye-catching GIR performance at The Players prior to winning this event 12 months ago, so perhaps his ironplay is peaking at just the right time.
Career victories at the Nordea Masters, DP World Tour Championship and Omega European Masters on 3 very different tracks shows Matt's versatility as a player, however his breakthrough European Tour victory at the classical, tree-lined Marquess Course at Woburn in 2015 still gives the best indicator to his strongest suit in my view and Wentworth fits right into that category. 47th here on debut in 2016 was a fair effort, however 12th last year on the revamped layout following 2 successive missed cuts suggests to me that he took positively to the changes and could well push on and seriously contend here this time around. RESULT: T8
Englishmen have a strong record in this event with the likes of Chris Wood, Luke Donald (twice), Simon Khan, Paul Casey and David Howell all lifting this title in recent times and siding with another pair of home-grown contenders seems a prudent strategy.
First up Andy Sullivan who's kept himself busier than most given the patchy European Tour schedule over the past few months and has been quite vocal in interviews as to how well his game is progressing of late. The 3-time European Tour winner hasn't added any silverware to his collection since that purple patch in 2015 that saw him capture the South African Open, Joburg Open and Portugal Masters in quick succession, however with a more settled home life he's been producing some consistently strong golf and hasn't missed a cut since the middle of October last year. 6th at the Dubai Desert Classic was the best of his early-season form on a course that whilst it's desert-based, does test a golfer's course management, however it's his more recent form that ultimately gets him the nod here. 21st at the Spanish Open eased the 30 year-old back into the competitive mindset after a 3-week break and that was followed up by 7th place in Morocco and 3rd when favourite at the Sicilian Open on his last start. All-round rankings of 2nd and 7th on those two most recent efforts suggests that there's no discernable weakness in his game right now and that bodes well for this week's test which will undoubtedly expose any flaws in a player's game. Course form of MC/26/17/22/30 is solid if unspectacular, however hidden within that we have Total Driving rankings of 3rd, 7th and 6th on his last 3 efforts and Ball-Striking rankings of 2nd, 3rd and 13th over the same period to suggest that he's got the measure of this challenge from tee-to-green. Andy, who generally putts best on Bentgrass greens, can put himself right in this mix this week if he can continue his fine run of recent form. RESULT: T35
After a whirlwind year on the PGA Tour, Andrew Johnston has buckled down in 2018 and focussed on his golf and fitness far more after admitting that last year's demands on his new-found celebrity status had impacted his game. After spending the first few months of 2017 in the US, he returned to England for this event 12 months ago and showed some promise by backing up his previous year's 7th place finish with a creditable 21st after some indifferent form Stateside, however he's in far better shape to attack this week's task at hand. 9th in Abu Dhabi, where he ranked 4th for GIR, was a promising start to the year and more recent efforts of 12th in Oman and also 12th in Spain, with a play-off defeat to Matt Wallace in India sandwiched in between, shows a great deal of promise ahead of this week. Beef's long game has been solid this season and he's been hitting around 75% of GIR over his last 3 starts which is ideal for an assault on Wentworth, backed up by two consecutive putting performances in the low 1.7s and a field-leading scrambling effort in India. Of course he'll need to bring all facets of his game with him this week, however with the likes of Rory, Casey and the other leading contenders taking far more of the media spotlight this year, I can see a more focussed Johnston getting into the mix this time around. The 29 year-old's single victory on the European Tour came at the exacting, tree-lined test at Valderrama 2 years ago and whilst the revamped Wentworth isn't as tough as that, it does have a strong enough correlation to make that effort relevant. RESULT: MC
Of the longer prices, Hitedo Tanihara is capable of proving that last year's 3rd place finish here wasn't a fluke and the 100/1 quote about the Japanese golfer is attractive, whereas at twice that price Thomas Aiken isn't without a chance given his metronomic tee-to-green game, although he'll need to find one of his increasingly rare positive weeks if he's going to feature this week. My final selection though is the experienced Dane Soren Kjeldsen who has the game to follow in the footsteps of 2-time Wentworth winner and compatriot Anders Hansen. Kjeldsen's form has been patchy of late to say the least, hence his price, however last week's effort in Belgium - where he finished 17th overall having ranked 3rd after the 36-hole strokeplay element - was a step change from his previous results and is worth of extra scrutiny. The 43 year-old has been struggling with some back issues of late which explains his indifferent form, however 8th for Driving Accuracy, 1st for GIR and 7th for Putting Average after the initial phase of last week's Belgian Knockout is eye-catching and bodes well for a strong week here in Surrey. The former Irish Open winner, who also has top-10 finishes in 3 of the 4 Majors to his name, is undoubtedly talented enough to win an event of this stature and 3 top-10 finishes here at Wentworth over the years suggests that the course suits his eye. A sparkling record at Valderrama is also encouraging with a victory (2008 Volvo Masters) and 3 further top-4 finishes to his name and at a strong 3-figure price here this week I'm happy to take on the bookies given the spark that he showed last week. RESULT: MC
Watch these tips on YouTube with Steve Bamford: Golf Betting System YouTube Channel
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