The 44th Ryder Cup at Marco Simone G&CC in Rome is just over two weeks away, but in last week’s Irish Open at the K Club we were shown a possible glimpse of the future for the European side.
With many of the main contenders floundering in apparently kind scoring conditions, young Swede Vincent Norrman produced a fine final-round display to come from six back at the start of the day and steal the title from under their noses.
The win followed him collecting a first PGA Tour title a couple of months back in the Barbasol Championship and coming hot off the heels of fellow Swede, Ludvig Aberg’s breakthrough win two weeks ago, it was a reminder to not forget about the former #4 ranked amateur when looking at the future of European golf.
It’s now time for the Flagship Event of the DP World Tour, as we take in the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth Golf Club’s West Course.
The BMW PGA Championship was part of the schedule in the inaugural season of the DP World Tour in 1972; taking over from the PGA Close Championship which had taken place since 1955 in the pre-DPWT days.
That first DPWT edition in 1972 was won by Tony Jacklin here at Wentworth, where the tournament stayed for the first three years. After mulling about between various links courses from 1975 to 1983, the BMW PGA Championship returned here in 1984 and has stayed ever since; becoming a big part of the tour in the process, as not just the host of this Flagship Event but also sees the tour’s headquarters stationed here.
The event boasts starry names such as Arnold Palmer (1975), Seve Ballesteros (1983, 1991), Bernhard Langer (1987, 1993, 1995), Colin Montgomerie (1998, 1999, 2000) and Rory McIlroy (2014) among its former winners. Although it is Sir Nick Faldo who stands above all others with four wins, coming in 1978, 1980, 1981 and here at Wentworth in 1989.
After finishing runner-up to Rory McIlroy here in 2014, Shane Lowry finally got his own back by pushing his good friend into 2nd last year; taking home the title in one of the more surreal golf tournaments in recent memory, with the tournament having been reduced to 54 holes following the death of Queen Elizabeth II.
The Irishman is back to defend this week and joined by each of the other eleven players in this year’s European Ryder Cup side, along with captain and two-time winner of the event in 2011 and 2012, Luke Donald.
Wentworth’s original West Course was designed in 1926 by Harry Colt, though has undergone several changes since; with Wentworth resident, Ernie Els, the most recent renovator in 2016.
Traditionally providing a stern but fair test, this 7267-yard par 72 has gone through a period of generous scoring over recent renewals. Francesco Molinari shot -17 to win in 2018 and was followed by the second-best winning score at this course in 2019, as Danny Willett shot -20 for a three-shot win over Jon Rahm.
Each of the next two editions were won in scores of -19 – Tyrrell Hatton in 2020 and Billy Horschel in 2021 – and last year, Shane Lowry’s -17 winning score over just 54 holes was trending in the direction of another -20 or better winning score if played over the usual 72 holes.
Part of the reason for this good scoring is that the course has been receptive in recent years due to wet weather but ultimately, whilst challenging and littered with danger, there is no aspect of play at Wentworth that ranks as severely difficult. If you hit the ball well, you can take it to the course.
The sloping, tree-lined fairways start off relatively narrow but get more generous – barring the odd hole – as you make your way around the course. They are protected by some thick rough and strategically placed bunkers; with many of the doglegging holes requiring a level of strategy to avoid blocked out approaches to the greens.
The speedy greens are quite small and sloped, and can be made to look even smaller with most placed at an angle to your position in the fairway. False fronts and run-off areas will repel less precise approach shots, whilst bunkers add further defence to most and contribute to them ranking in the top 10 most difficult-to-find greens on tour. Additionally, there are a number of subtle elevation changes around the venue which can make distance control on approaches difficult.
The course starts off pretty challenging, with the 474-yard 1st hole regularly ranking as one of, if not the most difficult hole on the course, whilst the 459-yard 3rd has ranked inside the top 3 highest-scoring holes in the last three years.
This story continues throughout much of the front nine and it’s imperative to not get too downhearted if leaving a few out there over those opening holes, as most of the best scoring opportunities come on the back nine.
This is in no small part down to the fact that three of the four par 5s come over the last nine holes (on holes 12, 17 and 18); all of which are reachable and enable players to get hot on the way in. The final of these holes and indeed the final hole of the event is the 523-yard par 5 18th, which may look a gimme birdie on paper but is far from it.
The wide fairway is protected by huge bunkers on the left and water on the right; water which carries on up the length of the hole, closely boarding the left-hand side of a heavily sloped green, whilst bunkers long are not easy to get up and down from. It’s an exciting finishing hole that can easily see anything from an eagle to a double+ and will have a huge barring on where the trophy ends up this week.
- SG: Off-the-Tee
- SG: Approach
- Par 5 Scoring
As we see when looking at stats from recent years, strong ball-striking is a necessity at Wentworth.
Shane Lowry was on song with the long game when winning last year, ranking 1st in greens-in-regulation, 9th in approach and 16th off-the-tee. Jon Rahm in 2nd drove the ball better than anyone and ranked 3rd in GIR; Rory – also in 2nd – was 2nd OTT and Talor Gooch in 4th ranked 1st in approach and 7th in GIR.
This story was even more evident in 2021, as winner, Billy Horschel, ranked 1st in approach, 1st in GIR and 2nd OTT. Runner-up Jamie Donaldson was a strong 10th OTT and 12th in approach, whilst fellow 2nd-place finishers, Laurie Canter and Kiradech Aphibarnrat ranked 3rd and 6th respectively in GIR; Canter was also 3rd in approach.
Tyrrell Hatton was strong with the short game when winning in 2020, though was a respectable 11th OTT and 18th in approach. The man who chased him home there, Victor Perez, ranked 2nd in GIR, 7th in approach and 17th OTT; Andy Sullivan in 3rd ranked 5th in GIR, 8th in approach and 8th OTT.
Danny Willett led the field in GIR when winning in 2019, tied at the top in that statistic with 3rd-place finisher Christiaan Bezuidenhout; runner-up Jon Rahm, ranked 1st OTT. Whilst in 2018 the top 4 ranked 11th or better in GIR, three ranked 10th or better in approach and the top 2, Francesco Molinari and Rory McIlroy, ranked 9th and 1st OTT respectively. Each of those last five winners had a quality ball-striking week.
Conditions may be a little firmer than we’ve seen in recent years this week and that could see these small, well-protected greens missed with a greater regularity, thus bringing in the need for a good scrambling week.
Irrespective, this has often been a key area, with four of the last five winners ranking 3rd or better in scrambling; this very much replicated last year, as the top 4 ranked 1st, 3rd, 2nd and 6th in this area.
Finally, with two of them closing out the course, it’s of little surprise to find out that par 5 scoring is particularly important at Wentworth.
Correlating Events (Courses)
For a course with so much history, I found trying to form strong correlations with Wentworth a little tricky. Courses like Abu Dhabi Golf Club and Emirates golf Club in the Middle East threw out an abundance of form-ties but with little to link these events to Wentworth aesthetically or in the way they play statistically, I largely put these links down to the stronger fields these events typically produce; hence top players often performing well across the courses.
It would also be easy to just throw in any combination of more classically designed, tree-lined courses but few ranked overly close from a statistical point of view.
However there were four courses that stood out for a number of reasons this week:
Omega European Masters (Crans-sur-Sierre)
Crans-sur-Sierre is a strategic, tree-lined course that produces similar tee-to-green stats as Wentworth; also comparing closely in birdie making and bogey avoidance numbers.
Many players have won at these two storied events; from Danny Willett and Alex Noren in more recent times to Miguel Angel Jimenez and Colin Montgomerie in years long gone by.
Amongst a large list of players with correlating form are Jamie Donaldson, who has finished 2nd here at Wentworth and 3rd there; 2020 BMW PGA winner, Tyrrell Hatton has finished 3rd three times at Crans; Matt Fitzpatrick has won at Crans twice and never missed a cut here, including recording two top 10s. Of the more obscure players, France’s Julien Quesne has two top 7s in seven visits to Wentworth and has a good record in the European Masters, with a best of 5th in 2016.
Nedbank Challenge/2020 South African Open (Gary Player Country Club)
Gary Player Country Club is a largely tree-lined, smartly bunkered course. Though not quite as strategic a golf course as Wenworth, it possesses similar ball-striking averages to this week’s course and has some telling form-ties.
Danny Willett and Alex Noren are again past champions of both events. Christiaan Bezuidenhout is a past winner there and has finishes of 3rd and 5th at Wentworth; as is Branden Grace, who has twice finished 5th here. Henrik Stenson has won there and recorded finishes of 3rd and 7th here.
Jamie Donaldson has finished runner-up twice at Gary Player CC; Shubhankar Sharma has a 3rd there to compliment a good record here, including a 9th in 2021 and Alejandro Canizares has top 4s at both courses.
BMW International Open (Golfclub Munchen Eichenried)
Golfclub Munchen Eichenried is a loosely tree-lined course that ranks closely to Wentworth in almost every aspect and poses a challenge of a similar level of difficulty.
Colin Montgomerie, David Howell and Miguel Angel Jimenez are among the players to win at both venues, whilst Henrik Stenson has also tasted victory there in Germany.
Christiaan Bezuidenhout has finished 3rd there; Kiradech Aphibarnrat has top 5s in the two events and Alex Noren has finished 4th.
Irish Open 2016 & 2023 (The K Club)
I mentioned Wentworth as a possible correlation to last week’s Irish Open, which looked to be a good call when looking at both the stats to come out of that event along with some notable form-ties.
Looking at the 2016 leaderboard, we have Rory McIlroy, Tyrrell Hatton, Rafa Cabrera Bello, Eddie Pepperell, Jamie Donaldson and Rikard Karlberg all finishing 10th or better and possessing some strong form at Wentworth. Whilst last week, Rory again performed well, as did 2021 Wentworth winner, Billy Horschel for a long way; Shane Lowry and Shubhankar Sharma other performers there who have good form here.
Additionally, the two late par 5s there add another dimension of comparison between the two courses and I’m confident that anybody who went well last week should have the skillset to carry that form over into this week.
There are a couple of spots of rain predicted before the start of the event this week and that could continue into the event itself, with Friday currently forecasting rain.
Wind could be a factor over the opening couple of day, with gusts potentially reaching 20mph+. However this dies down over what is set to be a cooler and cloudy weekend.
We have a stellar field teeing it up this week as four of the world’s top 10 are in attendance, headed by world #2 Rory McIlroy, #3 Jon Rahm and #4 Viktor Hovland. They are joined by each member of this year’s European Ryder Cup team, including reigning champion Shane Lowry and Team Europe captain, Luke Donald.
Tom Kim is an exciting entrant making his debut this week; Billy Horschel will be hoping to shrug off a poor back nine on Sunday on what was an otherwise promising week in Ireland, for a repeat success of his 2021 win; Adam Scott makes his third consecutive start in the BMW PGA and Tom Hoge will also be having his first try at the course.
We have a very strong trio at the top of the market this week, with Rory McIlroy leading the way at 6/1; then Jon Rahm and Viktor Hovland just behind at 7/1.
All three have good records here and it goes without saying that the rest of the field could have a tough job on their hands to keep one of these out of that number one spot. However, Rory wasn’t quite at it last week in Ireland; Hovland hasn’t played for three weeks and Rahm hasn’t been at his breathtaking best in this second part of the season. Whilst all only very minor issues, they’re enough to lead me away at the prices.
Instead my headline selection this week is the next man in the betting and someone playing some of the best golf on the planet over recent months, Tommy Fleetwood.
3 pts Tommy Fleetwood each way (1/5 – 7 places) – 14/1
Fleetwood’s season really sprung into life when he finished 3rd at the Valspar Championship back in March and he hasn’t looked back since. He’s finished top 25 in ten of his last fourteen starts with six top 6s; going closest when runner-up in the Canadian Open. Additionally, he’s finished no worse than 33rd in any of the majors, recording top 10s in The Open and US Open.
Each area of his game has contributed to this run of form and over the last three months he ranks 4th in strokes-gained total of the world’s top 150; with Rory McIlroy, Viktor Hovland and Scottie Scheffler the only three players to have played statistically better golf than him over this period.
Of course, that breakthrough PGA Tour win has eluded him, with his 2nd in Canada particularly frustrating – as an event he really ought to have won. Though he’s had no such difficulties finishing the job back on this side of the Atlantic and he should relish the return home this week.
Fleetwood has played here eleven times and has five top 25 finishes. His best came when 6th in 2015, although his next two best results at Wentworth have both come in the last three years, when finishing 12th in 2021 and 13th in 2020.
His correlating form is also strong, as a two-time winner of the Nedbank Challenge, whilst he has several top 10s at Crans and a good record in the BMW International Open, including a best of 6th in 2017.
Fleetwood is in the midst of his best run of golf since 2019, with a win the only thing missing; something I’m confident he can put right this week.
1.25 pts Adrian Meronk each way (1/5 – 6 places) – 40/1
It’s been one week since Poland’s Adrian Meronk was confirmed as the unlucky man to miss out on Ryder Cup selection this year, with the talented Scandi duo of Ludvig Aberg and Nicolai Hogaard preferred ahead of him by captain Luke Donald. He was able to put this huge disappointment to one side to produce a good performance in Ireland last week, finishing 23rd and with each member of that team in attendance this week, he has a golden opportunity to show just why he was wrongly overlooked for selection this week.
Meronk won his third DP World Tour title in less than twelve months at the Italian Open back in May and has maintained a good level of form since, recording six top 25s in his last eleven starts and two further top 5s, when 5th in the KLM Open and 3rd in the BMW International Open.
The Pole has long been known for his prowess with the driver and indeed he ranks as the best player off-the-tee on the DPWT this season. However the biggest encouragement from his performances this year can be taken from his iron play, with his rankings of 4th in greens-in-regulation and 21st in approach a significant improvement on stats of 38th and 106th in these respective areas last season.
As the 18th-best par 5 scorer and ranking top 25 in scrambling, he was the strongest statistical contender of the DPWT regulars for me this week.
He missed the cut here on debut in 2021 but stepped it up markedly last year, finishing 32nd and shooting under par in every round. His 3rd in the BMW International Open this year suggests he’s able of bettering that effort again; a positive record in the European Masters – with finishes of 38th, 27th and 13th in three visits – offers added promise.
Meronk is a proven winner, is in good form and should be a strong fit for this test, and there should be few in this week’s field as motivated to perform as him this week.
1.25 pts Ryan Fox each way (1/5 – 8 places) – 45/1
Though Ryan Fox (amongst others…) will no doubt be frustrated that he missed a fantastic chance at finally getting an Irish Open win at the K Club last week, that 3rd was still an excellent return to action for the New Zealander and with the driver looking in fine form there, he should be set for a best-ever performance at Wentworth this week.
That was his first regular DPWT start in around seven months – after spending much of this season playing solidly on the PGA Tour – and his first start anywhere in six weeks. After an understandably slowish start, he started to warm up in round two and after a best-of-the-day 66 in round three, he entered yesterday’s final round three back of the lead and with every chance.
Getting into the lead as we entered the back nine, he looked the man to beat but couldn’t get anything going over his final nine holes. He parred each of the par 5s over those closing holes and though a 3rd-place finish in a first start in six weeks was promising, there’s no doubt he let a big opportunity slip.
He can make amends for that here, at a place where he has a best of 20th in 2020 but I’m certain he’s capable of better. This confidence is increased by not only his performance last week, but also his 2nd in the Nedbank and 3rd in the BMW International Open last year.
Fox hit the ball excellently at the K Club, ranking 1st off-the-tee and 15th in greens-in-regulation. If he can tighten up the approach play a little to the levels we’ve been used to seeing of him over recent years, he should be a big danger this week.
1 pt Alexander Bjork each way (1/5 – 6 places) – 55/1
Alexander Bjork missed his first cut of the year last week in the Irish Open. That is very easy to forgive considering the incredible level of consistently strong form he has shown this year and he looks a nice price to bounce back at Wentworth this week.
Bjork is simply having the best year of his golfing career and by some way. Prior to last week’s missed cut, the Swede had recorded eight top 10s in eighteen starts this year, turning five of them into top 5s; with runner-up finishes in the Ras Al Khaimah Championship and two weeks ago in the European Masters rating as his best efforts.
He is excelling in every area, looking particularly good in approach and scrambling; areas in which he ranks 1st on the DPWT this season and this is a course where his accurate driving – for which he ranks 3rd – is important. As a top 20 par 5 scorer, he has the skillset to take it to those two closing holes.
Bjork’s record at Wentworth is a solid one, with finishes of 14th, 27th and 27th among his six efforts in the BMW PGA. It’s a similar set of result to that which he had at the European Masters, before his greater level of play saw him to a best-ever 2nd-place finish there this year; something I’m hoping he’ll replicate this week.
1 pt Thriston Lawrence each way (1/5 – 7 places) – 125/1
A closing 66 saw South Africa’s Thriston Lawrence climb up twenty-five spots into 3rd in Ireland last week. He produced a second strong ball-striking performance in a row and with an attractive book of correlating form, I’m expecting him to go well again this week and improve on his missed cut on debut here last year.
Lawrence’s rise in the game has been a speedy one over the last couple of years. After a rather fortunate win in the Joburg Open at the end of 2021, he’s since won a further three times on the DPWT; the European Masters and South African Open last year and back in June this year, he won the BMW International Open.
As has often proven the case with him, he can find his game at any moment and following an underwhelming run of form after his win in Germany, he burst back into life with that 3rd at the K Club. A performance engineered by a strong ball-striking display, as he ranked 13th off-the-tee, 22nd in greens-in-regulation and 29th in approach.
This is reminiscent of how he’s performed best this year, as he ranks 28th off-the-tee, 36th in approach and 36th in greens-in-regulation for the season.
Lawrence was disappointing when missing the cut in the BMW PGA last year but those wins at Crans and in the BMW International – along with his 3rd last week – show what he’s capable of around here and as one of the most prolific winners on tour over recent years, he is well worth a shot at this three-figure price.