Wentworth is one of the true highlights of the golfing calendar for me and our perennial return to the famous Surrey parkland course starts the run-up to the second Major, the US Open, in a little over 3 weeks time. The winner of this event gets an automatic invitation to the Olympic Club in San Francisco if they've not already qualified, however for many this will be more about taking a share of the generous €4.5m prize fund and fuelling either Ryder Cup aspirations or 2013 playing privileges by taking home a healthy cheque.
As usual for this event, we have pretty much all of the World's best European Tour players in attendance this week, including the top 3 in the OWGR Rory McIlroy, Luke Donald and Lee Westwood. Last year we had the famous World Number 1 shootout between Donald and Westwood as the event went to a playoff to secure the title and top spot in the rankings, and the bookies see little changing this week with Donald edging out Westwood and McIlroy for favouritism by a couple of points or so. Whether they're right or not remains to be seen - Donald's been relatively inconsistent of late despite some good-looking finishes on paper; McIlroy missed the cut at Sawgrass on his last outing and Westwood is using a stand-in caddy while Billy Foster recovers from injury.
Much has been made of the changes to Wentworth's West Course following Ernie Els' input and this year sees another material change as the 12th reverts back to a par 5, which now makes the courses a par 72 of just over 7,300 yards - a move that is likely to be received well by the players after a lot of gripes in recent renewals. In addition, the greens on the 8th and 18th have been rebuilt and some bunkers removed on the 18th fairway - other than that it's pretty much as you were last year when a score of 6-under was enough to make the playoff. After a few weeks of dull, damp and downright miserable weather in England, somewhat miraculously the sun has finally come out and the players will enjoy 4 days of sunshine and pleasant temperatures in the low-to-mid 70s. If the growth of the grass at GBS headquarters is anything to go by then the rough is likely to be quite juicy around the greens, however perhaps of more consequence will be the stiff Easterly breeze which is forecast to pick up from Friday onwards adding further complexity to what is already a tough examination.
Recent winners here have all had good experience of the event and recent contending performances over the West Course. Even surprise 2010 winner Simon Khan had previously finished 2nd at Wentworth 4 years previously, so his ability to play the course should never have been a total shock. A preference for Bentgrass putting surfaces should also be favoured, plus high GIR stats and the ability to avoid the worst of the trouble off the tee are all pre-requisites. With such a stellar line-up, I'd expect the top class players to rise to the top over the 4 days - with one or 2 real surprises thrown in for good measure. My selections then are as follows:
Sometimes when you research an event there's a player that just fits the winners profile like a glove. Luke Donald won last season after having finishes of 2nd, 3rd and 7th previously in this event; Simon Khan had finished 2nd and 10th previously; Paul Casey had finished in the top 10 twice before; Miguel Angel Jimenez had recent Wentworth results including 3rd, 4th and 8th, Anders Hansen in 2007 had won previously, plus had a 4th place finish to his name in the event; David Howell had previously finished 4th and 12th, Angel Cabrera had twice finished runner up....are seeing a pattern here?! For me, to win this event, you need to have tasted Wentworth defeat, regrouped, and come back stronger - so Justin Rose's 2nd place finish here in 2007 and 10th in 2010 is absolutely perfect for starters.
Over half of all previous champions have been in their 30s when tasting victory, however that's just an incidental fact that favours 31 year-old Rose. What's of more consequence is that winners here generally have a recent success under their belt - Donald had won the WGC Accenture, Khan the Qualifying School, Casey the Shell Houston Open & Abui Dhabi Championship, Jimenez the Hong Kong Open - that puts Rose on exactly the right page after his first WGC victory at Doral earlier this term. 8th at Augusta is also impressive, as are victories at the likes of Cog Hill, Aronimink and Muirfield Village - all of which are relevant in some shape or form to this week.
Last week Rose played some outstanding golf at the Volvo World Match Play to easily dispatch Robert Rock and Darren Clarke, before running into eventual tournament winner Nicolas Colsaerts who was 7-under through 15 holes to take their Saturday morning match. That was tough going on Rose who was around 15-under for the week at that point and clearly in great nick. Despite all the hype around the top 3 at Wentworth, I think Rose is a more likely winner at around twice the price...RESULT: Tied 2nd
I'll forgive Paul Lawrie his tantrum on Sunday if he can secure a top 6 position or better here this week - after all he'd just relinquished a 4-hole lead over Nicolas Colsaerts at the Volvo World Match Play and has entitled to be a little upset with himself! The truth is, on a course which massively advantaged the bombers like Colsaerts, I think Lawrie did extremely well to get as far as he did in the competition - for me that's testament to the quality of golf he's playing at the moment and his desire to make another Ryder Cup team on merit this season after last appearing at Brookline back in 1999. The Scot scored for us earlier this season at 50/1 in the weather-shortened Qatar Open and whilst many players will be cautious of the forecast breeze blowing around the West Course this week, Lawrie will be simply licking his lips! Paul has been playing some excellent golf for over a year now, beginning with his victory in Andalucia and further top-5 finishes in Barcelona, Majorca, Dubai and of course last week, as well as 3 further top-10 finishes this season alone. 6th here 2 years ago adds fuel to the fire, and if we're looking for Wentworth runners-up then he has that too back in 1996 when he finished 2 shots off of Constantino Rocca's total. RESULT: Tied 2nd
Of all my selections, Matteo Manassero has the least experience of playing at Wentworth - what do you expect for a 19 year-old! On his 2 starts here though he's shown significant promise with a solid 17th here on debut in 2010, followed by a contending 7th here last year where he shared the lead with eventual winner Luke Donald going into the final day. Winning such a prestigious event proved to be a step too far on that day, however with a year's more experience under his belt I won't be at all surprised to see the Italian youngster back in the mix here this week on a course which clearly suits him. Over the last 12 months, Matteo has visibly filled out in terms of physique and whilst he still doesn't hit it a country mile, it's unfair to classify him as purely a short-course specialist as a contending performance in Abu Dhabi (6th - 7,600 yards) proves. Wentworth isn't overly long at any rate, moreover it's his solid tee-to-green game and excellent putting which is most likely to see him succeed here. He's finished inside the top 7 on 4 of his last 5 starts and I've felt for a while that his next win is imminent. RESULT: T43
My final outright selection is the evergreen Paul McGinley. No Irishman has won this event since Harry Bradshaw way back in 1958 when it was played in North Wales, and whilst I'm not suggesting that you should place a hefty sum on the 2012 Ryder Cup vice-captain to win this, a small speculative Each Way punt could be the order of the day as there's plenty of positives to take about McGinley here. 7th on his last start a month ago (South Korea) was encouraging as every aspect of his game looked to be in good touch - in particular his driving where he hit 82% of fairways. That was following another prominent performance in India where we began the final day just 2 off the lead before drifting to 14th place. He has a wealth of experience at this venue and finishes of 2nd (2005) and 10th (2008) tick a lot of boxes, similar to my other selections. His last European Tour win came at the tough, tree-lined Valderrama in 2005 - wind won't bother him in the slightest and he's playing on his favourite Bentgrass greens. If you fancy a longshot this week then you could do far worse in my opinion than a few quid on this 250/1 shot. RESULT: T33
I really quite fancy both these players this week - Zach Johnson is featured in Steve's Crowne Plaza Invitational Tips - and a small each way double on these players would make us a pretty packet should they both win. RESULT: 2nd & 1st
There has been much debate on our facebook group about top 10/top 20 betting methods, if you have a view on the matter than please join in here, however for me it all boils down to picking the right player who represents the right level of value. My last 2 top 20 selections have both obliged (Jim Furyk at Augusta, Matt Kuchar at Sawgrass) and applying a similar type of logic, my selection for this week is Richard Green. Green has a wealth of experience here with 6 top 20s from his last 11 starts at Wentworth and just 1 missed cut during that period of time. There's no specific flaw in his game and when he's driving the ball well he's a good player, well capable of another top 20 here. Form of 11/33/11/12 over his last 4 events is good enough for me and he's been striking the ball particularly well over that period - as with Kuchar, a top 20 may be the least he achieves this week...RESULT: 65th. Odds and bookmaker offers correct at 19:15BST 22.5.12 but naturally subject to fluctuation.
Our tips, picks and predictions for the 2013 edition of this event will be published here on the Tuesday before the event - bookmark this page and come back soon!