No joy unfortunately for last week’s speculative team with 3-figure chances Padraig Harrington and Ashley Chesters both finishing 2 shots outside of the each-way places. Chesters in particular had a chance to make the each-way frame, however bogey at the short par-4 11th – which was the 2nd easiest hole on the day – knocked the stuffing out of our hopes and we we had to settle for a frustrating blank week.
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 2020 Ryder Cup qualification process given the event’s new autumn spot. Team Europe captain Padraig Harrington will be here to oversee proceedings first hand as a number of players who you’d fancy will qualify for his squad look to get their qualification campaign off to a flying start. Next year’s BMW PGA will also act as the closing tournament for the process which will add extra gravitas to that renewal also in 12 months’ time.
Whilst the BMW PGA Championship 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 field given its Ryder Cup significance and new spot in the calendar with 20 players from the OWGR top-50 in attendance. Rory McIlroy headlines at 11/2 following his FedEx Cup triumph last month, however with the likes of Jon Rahm, Paul Casey, Justin Rose, Henrik Stenson and Tommy Fleetwood here, as well as a smattering of PGA Tour players including Tony Finau, Viktor Hovland, Patrick Reed and Billy Horschel, we’re looking at one of the best fields assembled here for a number of years.
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.
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. 2018: Francesco Molinari, 22/1; 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.
Weather Forecast. The latest weather forecast for the area is here. After a fairly dry summer in the south of England and some warm sunshine in the days leading up to this year’s event, the course is expected to be reasonably firm. More sunshine is expected throughout the event with temperatures peaking around 70 Fahrenheit and wind speeds light at sub-10mph. The only potential fly in the ointment could be Sunday afternoon as the cloud thickens bringing the potential for some light rain or drizzle for the leaders as the complete their final rounds.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors.
Analysing the final stats of the last 9 winners here since 2010 gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this test:
- 2018, Francesco Molinari (-17). 76.8% fairways (4th), 73.6% greens in regulation (8th), 89.5% scrambling (1st), 1.72 putts per GIR (25th).
- 2017, Alex Noren (-11). 60.7% fairways (32nd), 62.5% greens in regulation (26th), 70.4% scrambling (4th), 1.64 putts per GIR (9th).
- 2016, Chris Wood (-9). 69.6% fairways (7th), 73.6% greens in regulation (4th), 52.6% scrambling (18th), 1.70 putts per GIR (13th).
- 2015, Byeong-Hun An (-21). 62.5% fairways (35th), 84.7% greens in regulation (1st), 81.8% scrambling (1st), 1.69 putts per GIR (11th).
- 2014, Rory McIlroy (-14). 67.9% fairways (30th), 68.1% greens in regulation (22nd), 60.9% scrambling (21st), 1.65 putts per GIR (8th).
- 2013, Matteo Manassero (-10). 60.7% fairways (47th), 73.6% greens in regulation (4th), 63.2% scrambling (14th), 1.75 putts per GIR (35th).
- 2012, Luke Donald (-15). 58.9% fairways (40th), 70.8% greens in regulation (10th), 66.7% scrambling (2nd), 1.67 putts per GIR (2nd).
- 2011, Luke Donald (-6). 67.9% fairways (23rd), 70.8% greens in regulation (3rd), 57.1% scrambling (25th), 1.70 putts per GIR (4th).
- 2010, Simon Khan (-6). 87.5% fairways (1st), 81.9% greens in regulation (1st), 53.8% scrambling (34th), 1.81 putts per GIR (54th).
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. The top-6 finishers last year all ranked 8th or better when it came to GIR on the week and eventual winner Francesco Molinari continued the trend we’d seen the previous year when scrambling was a critical factor as the Italian topped the field for getting up-and-down at a massive 89.5%, making just 2 bogeys on the week.
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 6 finishers last year were a combined 56-under par for the par 5s; similarly the top 5 finishers the previous year were a combined 38-under. 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 in 2017, Thomas Aiken in 2016 and Rory McIlroy in 2014 are the exceptions), played the par 3s at level par of better for the week. 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. 2017 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.
Francesco Molinari’s form for the season-to-date last year wasn’t anything special, hence the 22/1 price point despite his strong course form. 2 top-20s in his previous 5 starts hinted at some developing form though and the rest is history as he won the Quicken Loans National and then the Open Championship over his next few starts after proving victorious here:
- 2018, Francesco Molinari: 17/8/45/40/MC/25/26/17/20/49/16/MC
- 2017, Alex Noren: 12/1/23/13/21/MC/55/49/5/MC/31/10
- 2016, Chris Wood: MC/MC/8/MC/42/20/61/42/34/54
- 2015, Byeong-Hun An: 12/5/13/7/45/59/34/MC/8/15
- 2014, Rory McIlroy: 2/9/17/2/25/7/8/8/6
- 2013, Matteo Manassero: 9/23/22/12/33/29/23/17/MC/16/68
- 2012, Luke Donald: 48/56/33/6/1/32/37/3/6
- 2011, Luke Donald: MC/1/10/6/4/2/8/4/2
- 2010, Simon Khan: MC/65/57/56/61/MC/69/MC/27
Course Form: Given his recent form, the 100/1 about Benny 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 Francesco Molinari and Alex Noren from the past 2 renewals 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:
- 2018, Francesco Molinari: 30/MC/35/17/50/7/9/7/5/55/2
- 2017, Alex Noren: MC/6/21/74/MC/21/32/WD/8/43
- 2016, Chris Wood: 6/MC/49/WD/21/4
- 2015, Byeong-Hun An: Debut
- 2014, Rory McIlroy: MC/5/48/24/MC/MC
- 2013, Matteo Manassero: 17/7/43
- 2012, Luke Donald: 18/25/7/3/35/2/1
- 2011, Luke Donald: 18/25/7/3/35/2
- 2010, Simon Khan: 24/MC/2/24/10/MC
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 – however this year’s forecast is relatively calm with dry, sunny weather forecast which should help 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: