After a run of low-key weeks on the European Tour, the serious stuff kicks in.
There are ten tournaments to go on the Race to Dubai and five of those are Rolex Series events, starting with this week’s prestigious BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth in England.
A stellar field heads to European Tour HQ at Virginia Water in Surrey and the hefty purse means it’s the most important week for season-long gamers since the WGC at St. Jude two months ago.
This is the 62nd edition of the BMW PGA Championship and one of the best fields in memory. The switch from its traditional May date (to incorporate the PGA Championship slotting in as the year’s second major) looks to be an excellent one as long as the unpredictable British weather co-operates.
One final point to note; this year’s event marks the start of the points race for the 2020 Ryder Cup. Perhaps that's why Ian Poulter lines up despite his previous lack of love for the course.
Wentworth’s West Course (also known as Burma Road) has staged every edition since 1984. Originally designed by the legendary Harry Colt and opened in 1926, it’s undergone plenty of changes, some more controversial than others. Ernie Els’ latest tweak looks to have gone down well and it produced a quality champion in Francesco Molinari last year. The 7,284-yard par 72 is tight, tree-lined and open to all types of player as shown by short-hitting winners such as Luke Donald and Miguel Angel Jimenez. It closes with a pair of par 5s.
Past 10 Champions, Winning scores and Stats
2018 -17 Francesco Molinari (DD: 14, DA: 4, GIR: 8, Scr: 1, PA: 25, AA: 1)
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)
Eight of the last ten winners have finished in the top 12 for GIR, Franceseco Molinari adding to that streak when 8th for GIR. He also continued another trend. The trophy has often gone to a southern-based player (Wentworth is in the south of England) and Molinari resides in nearby London. The Italian was also 1st for Scrambling in 2018 and four of the last seven champions were in the top four for that category.
Rory McIlroy (2018): “They have taken quite a few of the fairway bunkers out, which is good. It lets guys be more aggressive off the tee if you want to be. This course is still very much a premium on hitting the ball in the fairway, and fairways and greens and good ball-striking, that will always win out around this place. But it just gives you options. I think over the past few years here, I always felt the longer hitters were handcuffed and there was a lot of 4-irons off tees and a lot of positional play where at least guys now can think about using their length as an advantage. And then the green complexes are a bit better. They have relayed the greens. The green surfaces are fantastic. They are a lot better than they used to be. Overall I think they have made some really good changes.”
Paul Casey: “Obviously Wentworth is one of my favorite golf courses and I have such fantastic memories there. I think it will have really benefitted from the change of date this year and the conditions might be some of the best we will have ever seen on the West Course.”
Tyrrell Hatton: “The BMW PGA Championship has always been one of the most important tournaments on the schedule for me, having regularly attended as a kid and dreamed of one day being part of it.”
Shane Lowry: “It’s a golf course which I’ve always loved, before and after the changes they made. If I go there with my game in decent shape, I know I can perform at Wentworth and I feel like it’s a tournament I can do well in.”
Alex Noren: “Since the changes to the West Course, it seems to get better and better and I’m looking forward to returning with this new date. After the summer season, I have no doubt the course will be in better condition than ever.”
Tommy Fleetwood: "I feel comfortable on the course and feel like it suits me. I love the course and I love playing in front of the home crowd that we get here for us.”
Sam Horsfield: “It's not the widest of golf courses off the tee so you can definitely get yourself in trouble with the big trees but you can make birdies out here as the guys have shown.”
In theory, this could have been a tough week weather-wise but we have big golden discs of sunshine forecast for Thursday, Friday and Saturday and pleasant temps in the mid-70s although the mornings will be a little chilly. However, rain is predicted for Sunday and winds could pick up too in the final round after being calm for the first two days especially.
The Leading Contenders
Rory struggled on his early visits but his last three show a victory in 2014 along with second place last year on his first start at Wentworth since 2015. McIlroy led at halfway but had to play second fiddle to Francesco Molinari on the weekend. Talking of firsts and seconds, he was runner-up at Crans-sur-Sierre a fortnight ago, seven days on from his brilliant victory in the TOUR Championship which secured the FedExCup jackpot and played a big part in him being crowned PGA TOUR Player of the Year last week. A confident Rory is a dangerous Rory.
“I cannot wait to play my first BMW PGA Championship. I have heard such great things about the event, the golf course and the crowds,” says Rahm, who has already won three Rolex Series events. It’s his first start since the TOUR Championship but the Spaniard hasn’t finished outside the top 15 in his last eight events starting from a top three in June’s U.S. Open. Six of those were top sevens and the run included a victory in the Irish Open. No surprises if he takes to the course immediately.
A two-time winner at Wentworth, the first in the 2006 HSBC World Match Play Championship (was also held in September) and the second in this event in 2009. He left it off his schedule for four years but returned with a top 20 in 2018. The Englishman arrives on a wave of confidence after his third place in the TOUR Championship and victory in the Porsche European Open in Germany.
Came here as a kid to watch the action but has yet to complete the ultimate story of lifting the trophy. He’s gone close though. Rose was runner-up in both 2007 and 2012 while he took T12 on his last appearance two years ago. Just a little concern about his form in the playoffs where he posted 52nd (BMW) and 26th (TOUR Championship) in the last two.
Always professes his love for the venue but T6 in 2015 is his only top 15 in seven attempts. It looked promising last year when he opened 70-66 although a Saturday 77 left him down in T20. The Open runner-up was fourth at St. Jude and went 43-11-13 in the playoffs before posting T8 at the European Tour’s Omega European Masters at the start of September. Lots of classy performances but is without a win since January 2018.
The American’s third straight week in Europe and it’s been a bit of a slow burn so far with T36 at Crans-sur-Sierre and T15 at the KLM Open when he posted his lowest round on Sunday. A winner at The Northern Trust in August, his best stuff still seems fairly close to the surface and hitting over 80% of greens in the Netherlands last week was a good sign. Course debut.
Victory here was part of his astonishing 2018 when he won the Claret Jug and all five points in Europe’s Ryder Cup win in France. He’s calmed in 2019 but this has always been a great week for him. The Italian was runner-up in 2017 and has finished in the top ten in six of his last seven visits. Lost his way in America in recent months but let’s not forget that his last return to Europe produced T11 at Royal Portrush when defending his Open crown.
No surprise that Lowry has had a dip since the incredible high of winning The Open at Royal Portrush although, to be fair, he’s only played twice and four of his eight rounds were in the 60s even though he finished T52 at The Northern Trust and T48 at the BMW Championship. If he’s going to get back on the horse, this is a great venue for it. Lowry has six top 15s in the last eight editions and four of those double as top sixes, including a second place in 2014.
A first start for Finau at Wentworth so we’re guessing a little. But third at Royal Portrush shows he travels well and the big hitter ended the FedExCup playoffs with fourth and seventh, ranking 1st for GIR at the BMW. If Finau gets his strategy right (knowing when to club down and when to let rip), he could be dangerous.
Has had two looks at Wentworth, missing the cut (76-77) on debut in 2017 but showing his thirst for righting wrongs with a T20 last year. He didn’t have his best stuff when returning to the European Tour earlier this month but after MC in Switzerland and an opening 75 at the KLM, Wallace shot 63-68 on the weekend to take third place on Sunday. Fourth in the Race to Dubai and is desperate to be No. 1. Now has Danny Willett's Masters-winning caddie on his bag.
Course Form/Neat Fit
A slightly curious one. Emphasis on strong iron play suggests it’s right up his street but early record showed otherwise. He’s played it just twice since 2010 but was 7th in 2014 and 3rd in 2017 so perhaps the theory does work out after all. Fourth (Scottish Open), 20th (Open) and third (Scandinavian Invitation) in last three starts on European soil, topping the GIR stats in two of them.
Owns a 3-for-3 slate at Wentworth and has improved his finish each time – T47 in 2016, T12 in 2017 and T8 last year after bookend 67s. Strong record on home English soil (won 2015 British Masters) and runner-up at the Scandinavian Invitation two starts ago before a wonky defense (T69) at Crans.
Shot a hard-to-believe final-round 62 to win the title here in 2017 and added four fine rounds to finish third when defending last year. Also T8 in 2015 and T6 in 2008. Loves Wentworth although a brief summer resurgence has vanished again – 60-40-MC his last three starts – so Noren is the best example of a course v current form dilemma this week. I’d lean towards supporting the former.
Had a strange run of alternating top 20s with missed cuts at Wentworth but he’s levelled that out recently with T22 and T8 in his last two. That brings his tally to five top 25s in the last eight visits while his last three starts on European soil showed 3-4-9 (BMW International Open, Irish Open, Scottish Open) before MC at The Open. Bounced back from Royal Portrush exit with T12 at St. Jude.
The Englishman enjoys this home game and has cashed on his last nine visits, posting three top 10s and a further pair of top 15s. He also won the HSBC World Match Play here in October 2000. Fourth at the Open Championship and T28 at Crans, this should get his juices flowing again after a couple of missed cuts at the Czech and KLM Opens.
Won in the trees at Valderrama and bounced back to form with T12 at the European Masters on his last start to suggest he’s due another big one soon.
Literally improving by the week if going on bare results – MC-32-29-23-10. Take note that he topped the GIR stats in both Sweden and his native Netherlands last week. Is 4-for-5 at Wentworth in the last five years with a run of 12-11-27-24 from 2014-2017.
Didn’t make the cut on his debut here 12 months ago but he’s a straight hitter (good record at Valderrama) showing some nice form with T9 and T15 in the last two European Tour events. Ranked top ten for GIR in both.
After 11 MCs in 14 starts, he’s hit back with T12 and T15 on the European Tour in the last two weeks. The triple major winner always enjoyed his matchplay events here and had success in this tournament too with top 11s in 2005, 2006 and 2010.
Bright young Aussie had rather lost his way but has returned to leaderboards lately via T8 at the European Masters backed up by T22 in the European Open. Course debut. Top three at 2018 British Masters in England.
Grew up in the south and played lots of junior golf here. Top ten in last two years and had made his last two cuts in Europe.
Scene of his biggest win (2016) and it followed fourth in 2014 and sixth in 2010. Has struggled with injury but now 3-for-3 since late August.
Definite fan of Wentworth after fifth last year, T14 in 2017 and T27 in 2015. Excellent record on English soil and T32 at Royal Portrush was decent despite some poor form either side.
Swede has turned his season around with a run of 10-MC-20-7 in the last four weeks. Only 1-for-3 at Wentworth however.
Tied 10th in two of his last four tournaments (Scandinavian Invitation and last week’s KLM Open). Finds lots of fairways and T27 at Wentworth last year.
T7 in 2016 and T21 the following year, ‘Beef’ looks in a good place again after struggling with mental health issues. 4-10-23 in his last three regular European Tour events.
Course horse. Back-to-back winner here in 2011/12 and also boasts a second and two thirds. Made three of his last four cuts on the PGA TOUR so flickers of some decent form again.
Just loves what he sees here. Tied ninth on his first look in 2017 and followed it with tied 12th last year. MC on last two starts but third at Scandinavian Invitation less than a month ago.
Likes to plot his way around the West Course and has failed to make the weekend just once in the last six years here. T9 in 2013 and has made four of his last six cuts in Europe.
Thai veteran has been good for all 12 Wentworth cuts since 2006 and his last four show T8 last year and runner-up in 2015. Has made 50% of his Euro Tour cuts since April.
1. Rory McIlroy
2. Paul Casey
3. Francesco Molinari
4. Jon Rahm
5. Justin Rose
6. Tommy Fleetwood
7. Shane Lowry
8. Patrick Reed
9. Henrik Stenson
10. Tony Finau
11. Matt Wallace
12. Matthew Fitzpatrick
13. Alex Noren
14. Joost Luiten
15. Thomas Pieters
16. Bernd Wiesberger
17. Viktor Hovland
18. Tyrrell Hatton
19. Erik van Rooyen
20. Billy Horschel