Paul Williams

Paul Williams' BMW PGA Championship Tips 2020

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Changeable conditions in Scotland last week didn’t help our cause with our main hope Joost Luiten falling out of contention as the rain came down, having opened with a sublime round of 63 where he topped SG Putting on the day. In the end, links-loving Matt Southgate came closest to rewarding us with an each-way place at 150/1, however his tie for 9th wasn’t quite good enough and unfortunately meant we drew a blank on the week.

On to this week we go 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 completes our rearranged fortnight of Rolex Series action.

In a world where Covid-19 wasn’t a factor, this event would have been scheduled a few weeks earlier and would have acted as the final chance for Team Europe players to qualify for the Ryder Cup. It would have been some spectacle I’m sure with so much on the line, however it’s testament to the stature of this event that we’ve still got a classy field here this week, despite the obvious concern and challenges we all face right now.

A late invite for Patrick Reed meant some late adjustments to the early books that had published on Monday morning, with the Race to Dubai leader being installed as the marginal favourite from last week’s play-off loser Tommy Fleetwood at 11/1 in places. Tyrell Hatton, Justin Rose and Matt Fitzpatrick all rate as 16/1 to 18/1 chances with most books in this 120-man field.

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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: 7,286 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.

bmw pga championship tips

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 | 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. 2019: Danny Willett, 66/1; 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. Storm Alex may have passed through the UK now, however there’s scope for more wet weather for the first day or two of this week’s event before conditions improve over the weekend.

A westerly airflow will bring periods of rain through Thursday and Friday with moderate winds of 10-15mph before conditions settle down a little with chilly mornings and sunny spells thereafter.

Tournament Trends & Key Factors.

Analysing the final stats of the last 10 winners here since 2010 gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this test:

  • 2019, Danny Willett (-20). 64.3% fairways (16th), 76.4% greens in regulation (2nd), 70.6% scrambling (8th), 1.58 putts per GIR (2nd).
  • 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. 5 of the top-7 finishers last year all ranked 7th or better when it came to GIR on the week and eventual winner Danny Willett continued the trend we’d seen the previous year when scrambling was a critical factor, as the Englishman ranked 8th for getting up and down at 70.6% over the 4 days.

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 in 2018 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.

Last year’s winner Danny Willett frustrated many punters having been a well-backed fancy on his previous start at Crans-sur-Sierre where he missed the cut. Prior to that though, he’d finished 6th at the Open Championship and produced 2 strong rounds in decent company at The Northern Trust in the PGA Tour Playoffs so, Crans aside, the signs were there:

  • 2019, Danny Willett: MC/MC/MC/41/27/8/12/MC/6/48/24/MC
  • 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 Danny Willett, Francesco Molinari and Alex Noren from the past 3 renewals, 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:

  • 2019, Danny Willett: 5/MC/43/32/63/38/3/58/MC
  • 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, and for the first day or two conditions aren’t likely to be great with rain set to accompany a steady breeze.

The flip-side of this is that the course will play soft and the greens receptive which will encourage birdies in any calmer, drier interludes and more so for those who make the weekend. The bentgrass greens that were re-laid as part of the most recent renovation will reward those who are putting well and can find the putting surfaces in the requisite number. 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:

Justin Rose 3pts EW 18/1 (8EW, 1/5) with Paddy Power

With 5 of the last 10 winners of this title rating as 22/1 chances or shorter pre-event, it would be foolish to disregard the top of the market this week, particularly with this being a Rolex Series event and the additional prize money and Race to Dubai points that success carries.

The addition of Patrick Reed to the field has pushed out prices this week and quite rightly so – at 9th in the OWGR, Captain America is the highest-ranked player in the field and finished 4th here on debut 12 months ago. Despite his support for the European Tour though, Patrick is yet to win a regular event this side of the Atlantic and I’ll pass at the price on offer, despite his clear chance.

Talking of clear chances, it’s also impossible to confidently draw a line through Tommy Fleetwood who’s finished 3rd and 2nd on his last two European starts, despite not looking his best and missing enough chances on the greens both times to have comfortably won either event. Tommy was tempting, however I’m starting my team instead with Justin Rose who opted to miss the Scottish Open last week and makes his first European Tour start of 2020 here at Wentworth this week, having been saved from the cold and rain last week at Renaissance Club.

Much has been written about the Englishman’s decision to switch to Honma clubs at the start of 2019 when sitting at the top of the World Rankings, and victory at the Farmers Insurance Open with his new sticks only 1 event old looked to have vindicated his decision. No wins since that point though is more than disappointing for the 2013 US Open winner and it was no real surprise when it was announced in May that the two parties were splitting.

Although it’s been far from plain sailing since the decision was made and the golfing schedule resumed with 5 missed cuts from 9 starts, there have been some real signs of positivity. 3rd at the Charles Schwab Challenge on the PGA Tour featured the kind of long-game performance we’d come to expect from Rose, ranking 9th for Driving Accuracy, 6th for GIR and 9th for SG Tee to Green. 4th for SG Tee to Green the following week at the Heritage added further evidence that he may have turned the corner.

9th at the US PGA Championship was a decent result following 3 straight weekends off and 25th at The Northern Trust before his Playoff campaign ended hinted at further long-game improvements with 12th for SG Off the Tee, 8th for SG Approach and 9th for SG Tee to Green. A missed cut at the US Open was disappointing but he’s had a couple of weeks to reflect on that now and will undoubtedly want to get back to something approaching top form ahead of the restart for Ryder Cup qualifying in the new year, for which he sits some distance outside the automatic spots at present.

Rose turned 40 at the end of July and despite being fit and healthy, he’ll know that his most competitive years are becoming numbered and the split from Honma is a strong indicator that he understands that time is ticking. With 2 Rolex Series wins already to his name, a 3rd success here this week wouldn’t be remotely out of place and with 2 runner-up finishes in this event in the past, it’s clear that his game is well-suited to the demands of Wentworth. RESULT: T37

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Ian Poulter 2pts EW 40/1 (6EW, 1/4) with bet365

It was interesting listening to the various interviews last week with a number of the more celebrated players who’ve been plying their trade overseas in recent times. Graeme McDowell talked about the challenges of getting himself in a competitive mindset whilst operating in the ‘bubble’ and on courses with no energy from the fans to feed off of.

I can understand that challenge, particularly from players who’ve performed well at the highest of stages and Ryder Cups in the past, however that didn’t seem to bother Ian Poulter last week and save for an untimely double bogey on Sunday afternoon, he could quite reasonably walked away with the Scottish Open title at Renaissance Club.

The Postman was clearly disappointed with his result, however he had to brave some of the more challenging conditions on Saturday afternoon when he’d have loved to have been putting pedal to metal, and I suspect that overall he’ll be enthused with the way that he played back this side of the Atlantic.

In truth, it should have come as little surprise that the 44 year-old was likely to be competitive at European Tour level, despite having missed the cut on his previous start at the US Open. Poulter led after day 1 at the Heritage before finishing 5th at the Workday Charity Open following lockdown. 22nd at the US PGA Championship was positive after a slow start, as were rounds of 66/67 at The Northern Trust before his Playoffs campaign came to an end.

Poulter was one of the more vocal players when it came to Wentworth’s changes in 2009 and in particular his dislike of the old bumpy greens, and perhaps that goes some way to explaining his early form on a track that should otherwise suit his game nicely. 7 missed cuts from his first 9 attempts at the West Course illustrates this point perfectly, however 6 cuts made from 7 attempts since then and a best finish of 10th suggests he’s been working out how to navigate successfully around these parts.

The new, smooth Bentgrass greens installed with the most recent renovation have gained Poulter’s approval in interviews here in recent years and with receptive greens this week he should have plenty of chances to let his magic wand do the talking. 2 birdies to close last week will offer some encouragement despite his obvious disappointment at letting an opportunity slip from his grasp, and at 58th in the OWGR there’s added incentive for Poulter to focus on this week’s task at hand given the points on offer. RESULT: 5th

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David Horsey 1pt EW 150/1 (8EW, 1/5) with Paddy Power

It’s been just over 5 years since David Horsey won his fourth and most recent European Tour title on the relatively new Bentgrass greens at Himmerland Golf & Spa Resort in Denmark, however lockdown has allowed the 35 year-old to work on the technical aspects of his game and the early signs have been positive.

His warm-up ahead of his return to European Tour action at the British Masters was a low-key win on the 1836 Tour on his home course at Wilmslow GC, and he took some momentum into his reappearance at Close House, finishing 14th and recording his best European Tour finish for more than 12 months.

6th at the Celtic Classic, fuelled by weekend rounds of 65/66 secured the Cheshire man his first top-10 finish on Tour for over 2 years and he promptly followed that up with another top-10 at Valderrama a couple of weeks later, a strong personal best on that taxing, tree-lined test.

Traditionally a neat and tidy player from tee to green, it’s generally the longer courses on the circuit that cause Horsey the most problems, so a course like Wentworth that doesn’t tend to favour the longer hitters has to be a plus point. He led here after day 1 back on debut in 2009 and was 2nd heading into the weekend before fading, then put together an altogether more competitive 4 rounds a couple of years later when finishing 7th behind Luke Donald.

All 4 of Dave’s European Tour wins have come on Bentgrass or Bent/Poa mix greens and there was good evidence that his flat stick is working nicely once again as he led the field for putting average at the Celtic Classic. 2nd for SG Approach and 8th for SG Tee to Green at Valderrama adds further encouragement and having finished 14th last week in Scotland, perhaps he can improve further and reward us with an each-way return or better here this week. RESULT: T13

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Shubhankar Sharma 1pt EW 150/1 (8EW, 1/5) with Paddy Power

Finally, I’ll take a chance on Indian star Shubhankar Sharma who’s starting to show some flashes of form after a quiet couple of years on the circuit.

The 2-time European Tour winner threatened to break through onto golf’s top table at the age of just 22 a couple of years ago when he seriously contended at the WGC Mexico Championship a month after winning the second of his European Tour titles in Malaysia. Sharma led into the final day having been in and around the lead since the first day, however he eventually succumbed to the final group pressure and shot 74 to finish 9th behind Phil Mickelson.

10th at the CIMB Classic later that year was a similar story, this time at PGA Tour level with the now 24 year-old leading into the final day before shooting 72 and letting Marc Leishman take the title. Still, useful form and experience at a high level of quality and enough to suggest that his career-high ranking of 64th in the OWGR was no fluke.

The two years since have passed by with little in the way of incident, save for top-7 finishes at the Hong Kong Open, Italian Open and Turkish Airlines Open, and with those two most recent efforts falling around this time last year perhaps we’ll see another rejuvenation this autmun.

In truth, there have been a few signs of late that he might be approaching top gear once again. A 2nd round 67 at Vilamoura was enough to guarantee Shubhankar a pay-cheque having missed 5 of his previous 6 cuts since lockdown, and 26th last week featured 2nd and final rounds of 67 which again offers encouragement, particularly as he started from the far tougher side of the draw.

17th here last year on his Wentworth debut was positive, despite once again relinquishing a strong position, heading into the final day in 3rd position. 7th for SG Approach and top-20 ranks for SG Around the Green and SG Putting that week suggests that Sharma got to grips with the all-round challenge of Wentworth and with his long game and chipping in generally good order last week, he could threaten the each-way places here this time around. RESULT: T48

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Odds and bookmaker offers correct at 16:15BST 5.10.20 but are naturally subject to fluctuation.