Paul Williams

Paul Williams' BMW PGA Championship Tips 2019

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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.

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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:

Matt Wallace 2.5pts EW 28/1 (8EW, 1/5) with Paddy Power

Although we’ve seen wins here at Wentworth in relatively recent times from the likes of 200/1 Simon Khan and 100/1 Benny An, for the most part this event has produced a relatively short-priced winner and I’m going to invest a large part of this week’s stake in a couple of talented Englishmen who’ll want to get their Ryder Cup campaigns off to a flying start this week, headlined by Matt Wallace.

Although it’s nigh on impossible to write off the chances of the market principals, I think there are a few slight negatives that can be drawn from those at the very top. Although he’s won here before, Rory McIlroy’s Wentworth record is patchy overall and at 11/2 I can leave him out this week, despite his obvious class. Jon Rahm is making his Wentworth debut, as are American raiders Tony Finau and Patrick Reed, and mastering the course and conditions at the first time of asking might not be straightforward. Justin Rose hasn’t been quite on his game for a few months now, whereas Paul Casey is a recent winner and lifting himself again mentally will be the challenge here this week.

Henrik Stenson was tempting, however I’m happy to take a chance on the freshly-focussed Wallace who’ll want to take no chances having narrowly missed out on making Thomas Bjorn’s team for Le Golf National last year. Faced with a make-or-break event in Denmark just over 12 months ago with automatic qualification closed, the 29 year-old knew that the only way to stand a chance of making the team for Paris would be to win his 3rd European Tour event of the season in front of the on-looking captain. A back-9 birdie barrage and eventual triumph in a 4-man play-off told us everything we needed to know about the Hillingdon man’s guile and determination, however it wasn’t to be as Bjorn settled on experience for his Captain’s picks with Casey, Garcia, Poulter and Stenson selected instead.

To be fair to Wallace, he put a brave face on it all once the announcement had been made, however given what we’ve seen from him in terms of his work ethic and intensity, privately he must have been desperately disappointed. With no victory on Tour since that point, I suspect he’ll be giving this week maximum focus as he looks to put that episode behind him and after a slow start last week there were significant signs that he was very close to his best once again. An opening round of 75 put him on the brink of missing the cut in Amsterdam, however a Friday 67 saw him make the cut on the number before rounds of 63/68 catapulted him up to 3rd place. Impressive stuff from the World number 26 and some strong signs with his short game that he’s in a good place to attack this week if he can compliment that with a decent week from tee-to-green.

After missing the cut here on debut in 2017, Matt improved significantly on that last year to record a 20th place finish overall directly after a month’s break. With a decent warm-up behind him last week and the Ryder Cup carrot dangling in front of his nose, I can see him pushing the market leaders all the way this week and given his conversion rate it wouldn’t shock me in the slightest to see him come out on top on Sunday. Result: T41

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Tommy Fleetwood 2.5pts EW 22/1 (6EW, ¼) with bet365

One player who’s already tasted Ryder Cup success and who’ll undoubtedly want more of the same next year at Whistling Straits is Tommy Fleetwood. The Englishman’s partner to such devastating effect at Le Golf National, Francesco Molinari, is defending his title this year and if the seemingly out-of-form Italian is going to relinquish his BMW PGA Championship trophy then handing the baton to his good friend would seem to be the next best result for him.

The tee-to-green excellence of Fleetwood saw him finish 6th here in 2015, ranking 2nd for Total Driving and 1st for GIR that week, and although 20th place was his reward for last year’s efforts, he once again produced excellent long game stats. So far what’s been missing from Tommy’s game when he’s teed it up here in Surrey has been the kind of short game performance that has seen the likes of Molinari and Noren succeed here over the past couple of seasons. Good news for the 28 year-old then that he’s been chipping and putting very nicely in recent times, ranking inside the top-15 for scrambling on each of his last 5 starts globally.

No wins have been forthcoming so far for Fleetwood in 2019, however he’s been knocking on the door with top-level results including 3rd at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, 5th at The Players, 8th at the British Masters (when hosting), 4th at the WGC St Jude and 8th at Crans on his last start. Added to that of course was his runner-up finish to Shane Lowry at Royal Portrush which was yet another strong effort close to home which includes victory at the Johnnie Walker Championship, 2 runner-up finishes at the Dunhill Links and 3 top-10 finishes at the British Masters as well as his aforementioned 6th place effort here at Wentworth.

I’d expect Tommy to win this event with his style of game at some point in his career and with his short game also in good shape, perhaps this week will be his best chance yet. Result: T60

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Eddie Pepperell 1pt EW 100/1 (6EW, ¼) with bet365

You never quite know what you’re going to get with Eddie Pepperell, however if there’s one trend that can be extrapolated from his results CV over the past few years it’s that he often ups his game when he’s competing in the British Isles and I think he’s worth supporting given the odds we’re being offered this week on a player who we know has stepped up a level in the past 2 seasons.

Having dipped outside the OWGR top-500 mid-way through 2017, the 28 year-old has won as many fans with his excellent golfing performances as he has with his social media presence. Victories last year at the Qatar Masters and British Masters haven proven that the Oxfordshire man is capable of taking winning opportunities when presented and a 6th place finish at the Carnoustie-hosted Open Championship and 3rd at this year’s Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass have taken his elite-company performances to a new level and have kept him in the all-important world top 50 throughout this year.

I mentioned how his performances seem to improve close to home and that impressive sequence began here at Wentworth in 2013 when he finished 6th on debut. 4th at the 2014 Wales Open, 2nd at the 2015 Irish Open, 4th at the 2015 Scottish Open, 8th at the 2016 Irish Open, 7th at the 2017 Dunhill Links, 2nd at the 2018 Scottish Open, 6th at the 2018 Open Championship, victory at the 2018 British Masters, 2nd at the 2019 British Masters and most recently 4th at Lahinch for this year’s Irish Open illustrate that point perfectly. I wouldn’t be in the slightest bit surprised to see him in the mix this week having looked good from both off the tee and on the greens when finishing 35th at Crans on his last start. Result: MC

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Guido Migliozzi 1pt EW 200/1 (6EW, 1/5) with Unibet

I backed Guido Migliozzi on his last start a fortnight ago at the Porsche European Open and he rewarded us by sneaking a full each-way payout with the extended each-way terms that were available that week. Similar to that week where the talented Italian was making his course debut, Guido is seeing Wentworth competitively for the first time here this week, however that’s proven to have been of little hindrance so far in his rookie season that’s already seen 2 European Tour titles and I’m happy to take a chance that he’ll take to this track like a duck to water given the price on offer.

A stack of amateur victories and 3 Alps Tour successes prior to navigating his way through Q-School last November hinted that there was much more to come from the 22 year-old and he’s proven himself to have that winning knack by taking both the Magical Kenya Open and Belgian Knockout titles with a game that has no discernable flaws. The victory in Kenya was on a shortish, classical, tree-lined test and offers the best clue that he could go well here this week, and with his short game in good shape last time out in Germany – ranking 4th for scrambling and 5th for putting – he’s performing well enough around the greens to help minimise bogeys on this track where keeping dropped shots off the card can prove to be so critical.

86.1% GIR at both the aforementioned Belgian Knockout and also the Scottish Open tells us that his irons haven’t been in bad shape either and although it’s a stretch to expect him to win on his Wentworth debut, we’ve seen it happen with Benny An in recent years and in this game anything is possible. Result: MC

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Paul Dunne 0.5pt EW 350/1 (6EW, 1/5) with Unibet

Finally I’ll close with a speculative punt on a talented Irishman who’s produced the best golf of his career in the British Isles and is being offered here at a ludicrously long price for a player of his undoubted talent.

Paul Dunne’s name was scribbled onto many a golf observer’s notebook at the 2015 Open Championship when he became the first amateur to lead golf’s oldest Major with 18 holes to play since 1927, and although the pressure told in the end he nevertheless showed enough potential to peak the interest of punters. The County Wicklow man topped qualifying at Woburn that year, as he did the year before and the year after in an incredible sequence of results, to suggest that he’s as happy on a links track as he is on a tree-lined test like the Marquess Course, which sits alongside the Duchess Course used at the 2015 British Masters.

Further tree-lined success very nearly came at the Trophee Hassan in 2017 when only an incredible birdie-eagle finish from Edoardo Molinari prevented him from taking the title in regulation play, before eventually losing out in a play-off. He didn’t have to wait long though for his breakthrough when winning the British Masters at Close House, finishing with a sublime 61 to keep Rory McIlroy 3 strokes behind to again suggest he’s very comfortable playing across the Irish Sea.

Some near misses have followed, including 2nd to Jon Rahm at last year’s Spanish Open and a semi-final defeat at this year’s World Super 6 in Perth on another compatible track, however after a spell of poor results it was interesting to see the 26 year-old finish in a much improved 27th place last week in Holland. A closing 68 was amongst the best rounds on the day and his short game looked in good shape heading towards this week at Wentworth where he finished 30th on debut in 2017. As ever with Paul, much will depend how he drives the ball, however he produced his joint-best effort from off the tee last week since finishing 4th at the Made In Denmark in May which should instil a growing level of confidence in the rest of his game. Result: MC

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Odds and bookmaker offers correct at 17:45BST 16.9.19 but naturally subject to fluctuation.