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Across the Pond

BMW PGA Champs Preview

by Matt Cooper
Updated On: October 4, 2018, 4:04 pm ET

For far too long the European Tour's annual visit to headquarters has been mired in prolonged discussion of a mismanaged and ill-conceived course re-design, but last year's (re-)renovation seems to have put that to bed.
 
What might linger are concerns of the state of the greens which have suffered in recent years from poor weather in the run-up. If that is to be the case, it will at least be the final time because as of next year the tournament will move to late summer, accommodating the re-allocation of its big brother, the PGA Championship, to a May slot.
 
The field lacks Henrik Stenson and Justin Rose, but Rory McIlroy plays, as does the returning Paul Casey, winner of this event in 2009, and one of the many locals lads to thrive on the West Course. 
 

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Indeed, of the last 12 winners, six were from the south of England and had experience of walking the Wentworth fairways as a child, watching their heroes and grabbing autographs and spare gloves. 
 
You could add McIlroy into that mix. He was not local but he did make the journey. Inspiration, it seems, can be a factor.
 
The week has always felt like the European Tour's seasonal curtain call on a favorite (if not always well-treated) stage. Here's hoping for a five star performance from the cast.
 
 
The course
 
The changes of 2008 were disastrous, overseen by an owner who couldn't stop meddling. Attempts to mellow them followed, but they proved insufficient. So ahead of last year's event European Golf Design, together with a committee that included Paul McGinley, re-jigged the layout all over again. Every bunker was rebuilt, with 29 taken out of play to revive playing options lost by their inclusion. Four greens were fully rebuilt, five partially. Player feedback was positive. It is not the design of old, but the worst excesses have been flattened out. 
 
 
Past 10 champions, Winning scores and stats
 
2017 -11 Alex Noren (DD: 34, DA: 32, GIR: 26, Scr: 4, PA: 9, AA: 3)
2016 -9 Chris Wood (DD: 48, DA: 7, GIR: 4, Scr: 18, PA: 13, AA: 2)
2015 -21 Byeong Hun An (DD: 1, DA: 35, GIR: 1, Scr: 1, PA: 11, AA: 2)
2014 -14 Rory McIlroy (DD: 4, DA: 29, GIR: 23, Scr: 21, PA: 7, AA: 2)
2013 -10 Matteo Manassero (DD: 70, DA: 47, GIR: 4, Scr: 14, PA: 36, AA: 34)
2012 -15 Luke Donald (DD: 33, DA: 40, GIR: 12, Scr: 2, PA: 3, AA: 4)
2011 -6 Luke Donald (DD: 55, DA: 23, GIR: 4, Scr: 25, PA: 5, AA: 7)
2010 -6 Simon Khan (DD: 29, DA: 1, GIR: 1, Scr: 34, PA: 54, AA: 7)
2009 -17 Paul Casey (DD: 27, DA: 5, GIR: 11, Scr: 15, PA: 13, AA: 2)
2008 -11 Miguel Angel Jimenez (DD: 38, DA: 8, GIR: 51, Scr: 11, PA: 1, AA: 6)
 
Notes: Hitting fairways might be more important than is usually the case, a strong tee-to-green game is needed, but pretty much a good all-round test. Nine of the last ten winners ranked 7th or better for All-Round.
 
 
The Weather
 
A pretty steady forecast, with every day likely to be sunny with occasional cloud cover, temperatures in the mid to high 70s, but a fair breeze, possibly gusting to near 20mph which could get quite tricky in the trees. UPDATE: Although the good forecast remains true for the weekend as of Tuesday showers have been predicted for Thursday with Friday likely to be cloudy (both pre-cut days like to be cooler also).
 
 
The Leading Contenders
 
Rory McIlroy
The brutal fact is that his pre-cut scoring average around the West Course is poor (73.36) and, what's more, he keeps leaving himself behind the 8-ball from the get-go with just one Thursday lap below 71. That was when he posted 68 in 2014 and won the event, a week when the fairways were a haven from the off-the-course chatter about the collapse of his relationship with Caroline Wozniacki. His best golf, as ever with such a talent, can win on any test. His B game might too, but his C game struggles here.
 
Tommy Fleetwood
Bar any off-the-course drama his record is rather like McIlroy's because he's usually struggled, yet finished T6 when he was on his game (in 2015). His other five visits saw him record T24 in 2013, but fail to better T49 every other time and he has gone sub-70 just three times in 20 attempts. T7 last time out at THE PLAYERS and undoubtedly a more confident player now than at any other time he has attacked the course. In theory the ball-striking test should suit him.
 
Alex Noren
Always a consistent performer on the West Course he sped through the gears 12 months ago to post a stupendous final round of 62, leaping from outside the top 20 to pinch the win. He is 8-for-11 on the track and last year was the third in a row he has featured in the top ten at some point during the week. Returns to Europe after a year spent in the States and impressing too with seven finishes of T21 or better in ten starts.
 
Paul Casey
A turnaround from the one-time Surrey resident who returns this year to the European Tour and also its flagship event. It's easy to recall that he was a specialist on the track, but that leads us to forget his most recent efforts there. His first ten visits reaped seven top 25s and victory in 2009. But in 2012 and 2013 he missed the cut both times and averaged 75.50 shots per round. Owns 17 top 20s in his last 20 worldwide starts and T5 last time out in the Wells Fargo Championship. A double course winner courtesy of the 2005 HSBC World Match Play, but concerns over his fitness after a withdrawal from THE PLAYERS.
 
Francesco Molinari
"The West Course calls for a ball-striker," cry some and the record of famed fairways and greens merchant Molinari backs that up. He's 10-for-11 with seven top 30s, but it is in more recent years that he has really shone. In fact he's ticked off five top tens in his last six starts and in three of his last five starts he has led or held a share of the lead at halfway. Consistent stuff, but watch out: four of his last six weekend rounds have required at least 74 shots.
 
Branden Grace
The South African contended all week last year, never more than a couple of shots off the lead until fading in the final round to T9, a fourth top 25 in five visits. Hasn't missed a weekend of golf since last August and was T3 last week in the Byron Nelson. Will Trinity Forest's "links" test be good prep for this week though?
 
Byeong Hun An
Only a third start on the ET for the Korean this season, but he was T6 in the Dubai Desert Classic. Has also finished in the top ten in the Honda Classic and Heritage, whilst he was T30 on his last outing in THE PLAYERS. A course winner on debut in 2015 (71-64-67-65), T33 on defense and T24 last year (when T5 at halfway). 
 
Ian Poulter
Famously dismissive of the venue (initially he didn't like the greens, the re-designs never helped matters), he has actually made four of his last five cuts (but is 6-for-14 in total). It would take a bold gamer to pick him though: only once has he featured in the top ten after 36 or 54 holes (and once he sneaked into T10 after 72 holes). Flipside? A win and another four top 25s in his last six starts. 
 
Shane Lowry
The Irishman is a great fit for the West Course and bar one outlandish round would have a flawless record at making the weekend. As it is he is 7-for-8 with no less than four top six finishes and he has twice looked a likely winner during the last round. Rory McIlroy floored him in 2014 and he was one of many to be thrown off kilter when Alex Noren thrashed a 62 last year. His missed cut came in 2016 when he shot 69-78. Last seen on the European Tour when T2 in the DP World Tour Championship.
 
Tyrrell Hatton
It's common for some to bemoan the grass on the Wentworth greens but Hatton is unlikely to join in after he recently wailed on Twitter at his inability to get to grips with Bermuda putting surfaces. He's also a consistent 4-for-4 in the tournament with a best of T7 in 2016. His inability to record more than that one top 30 is a consequence of a poor Sunday record: he's only once broken par and averages 73.00 swings per lap.
 

 
The Next Rung
 
Paul Dunne
Just the one visit to Wentworth for the Irishman (last year) but it garnered a neat T30 and he'll be worth keeping an eye on because he loves winning in England. He claimed a first ET title in the British Masters last fall, added the GolfSixes earlier this month and he was a three-time winner of Open Qualifying at Woburn. On a wonderful run of five top eight finishes in six starts (including the GolfSixes). 
 
Andy Sullivan
The Englishman is simmering with form that looks ready to turn. In fact you sense his biggest problem is frustration because it's not quite happening. Six of his last seven starts are T21 or better, he was T7 in Morocco, T3 in Sicily and has four laps of 65 or less in his last 11. He's 4-for-5 on the West Course, with all weekends reaping top 30s but a best of only T17.
 
Rafa Cabrera Bello
Eight visits to Wentworth and a neat split: four finishes of T22 or better (but no top ten) and four missed cuts. It may or may not also be worth noting that his last three four round efforts here have seen him fail somewhat at the weekend because he was T6, T3 and T6 respectively at halfway. Last seen when T17 in THE PLAYERS.
 
Alexander Levy
T7 in Abu Dhabi followed by T4 in both Dubai and Oman hinted that another win was imminent and he duly delivered in the Trophee Hassan II, but most recently missed the cut (albeit narrowly) in THE PLAYERS. A final round 67 on his tournament debut in 2014 earned him T12 and he's followed that by twice finishing T51. 
 
Andrew Johnston
Missed the cut on his course debut in 2015, but bounced back with T7 on his second showing, weeks after his first (and currently only) ET win at Valderrama. He backed that up when T21 last year. He hasn't been seen in action since mid-April, but he has shown fine form, finishing T12 in Spain and Oman either side of losing a play-off to Matt Wallace in the Indian Open.
 
Matthew Fitzpatrick
Closed out 2017 with nine top 20s in a row, a run that started with victory in the European Masters, and began this year in the same style with T3 in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, but since then has struggled (5-for-8) although he was a tidy T14 in the Heritage and, despite T46 in THE PLAYERS last time out, he was never over par in his four rounds.
 
Kiradech Aphibarnrat
After missing a cut last summer in Prague he went 20-for-22 worldwide with 16 top 25s, 11 of them top ten including three wins and it ended with a quarter final in the WGC World Match Play. Since then he's labored a little with T44 in the Masters, T45 in the China Open and T30 in THE PLAYERS. A little break might help however. 3-for-5 at Wentworth with a best of T14 this time last year.
 
Joost Luiten
The Dutchman's record in this event is rather like his career in microcosm: wonderfully consistent yet never quite delivering on the big stage. He's 5-for-8 and every time he has made the weekend he finished top 30 yet he is still waiting for a top ten, with a best of T11 in 2015. A winner this year, in the Oman Open, but missed the cut last week in Belgium.
 
Adrian Otaegui
So impressive when winning the Belgian Knockout last week and it was signposted because it was his sixth top 20 in a row and he hasn't missed a cut since the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship. His arrow straight game should be a good fit for Wentworth, but he's yet to prove it. Was T63 in 2014 and missed the cut last year. Has an average of 73.67 shots per laps and never broken par.
 
HaoTong Li
A stunning winner of the Dubai Desert Classic, when he took on Rory McIlroy in the final round and asserted himself in some style. Since then his eight results are book-ended by missed cuts and the six in-between show nothing better than T32. He's well capable of returning to his best form out of nowhere. He's 2-for-3 at HQ, T27 in 2016 and T30 last year.
 
 
Sleepers
 
Chris Wood
Aside from finishing second in the Oman Open it's not been a good season for the Englishman, but he's feeling good about the work he's been doing in practice and will relish a return to the scene of his career highlight, victory in 2016.
 
Nicolas Colsaerts
A solid West Course performer in recent years with four top 25s in his last five starts there. Pick of the bunch was last year when third after a final lap 65 and played well last week in Belgium.
 
Scott Hend
The Aussie led after 18, 36 and 54 holes two years ago before bombing with a Sunday 78 for T15, but backed it up with T24 12 months ago.
 
Pablo Larrazabal
He's 6-for-9 on the West Course and three of those weeks he posted T12 or better. His best effort was when T7 in 2014 and last year he closed with a 66 for T24. He's also ticking along nicely form-wise. 
 
Marcus Fraser
At first glance the Aussie (who likes playing among the trees) has only one decent Wentworth effort, when T4 in 2011. But he was T3 after 54 holes on debut in 2007 and T4 after 36 holes a year later.
 
Scott Jamieson
The Scot was T8 after 36 holes on debut in 2011 but showed precious little else at HQ until last year when he opened 67-70 to share the halfway lead before finishing T14.
 
Nino Bertasio
The Italian was an impressive debutant last year (T14) and it is of a pattern because he played tree-lined tracks extremely well. He has top tens at Saujana, Milano, Valderrama and Royal Dar Es Salam.
 
Thomas Aiken
The South African boasts six top 40s in nine starts at HQ, with three top tens including T4 in 2016 when he ranked first for All Round Game.
 
Matteo Manassero
Almost nothing has gone right since he won here in 2013, but he also led after 54 holes in 2011. Loves the vibe and been playing nicely in recent weeks. 
 
Aaron Rai
A solid full year on the circuit, is arrow straight from the tee box and has history with the course. He revealed to Rotoworld at Challenge Tour Grand Final that he came here as a boy and watched Ernie Els
 
 
Who's On The Team?
 
Rory McIlroy has to be involved and with his consistent record on the course (and fine form in the States) I'll include Alex Noren too.
 
Can Shane Lowry and Francesco Molinari repeat their Wentworth skills yet again?
 
Can we trust Paul Casey's back?
 
The full team will be revealed in Tuesday's Playing the Tips column.
 
 
One To Swerve
 
Ian Poulter is in great nick, but there's too much niggle in his relationship with the course. It's not as if we're talking about four or five visits either. 14 is plenty.