BMW PGA Championship Each-Way Tips: Memories can fuel Rai

Aaron Rai golfer
Rai enjoys golf between the trees.

The European Tour is back at HQ this week for the BMW PGA Championship and Matt Cooper has three each-way selections with the Betfair Sportsbook paying eight places...

"I’ve had Rai on the radar for this event ever since he told me, shortly after graduating from the Challenge Tour, that he’d visited Wentworth as a kid."

Aaron Rai 1pt each-way @ 67.066/1

Main Bet: Aaron Rai 1pt each-way @ 66/1

One of the European Tour's great strengths is its variety - tournaments visit new sites or simply journey around their host countries with far greater frequency than on the PGA Tour.

That can sometimes represent a thorny problem for punters, however, because it sometimes feels like we're trying to solve a crossword puzzle with no clues.

Not this week because ever since the mid-1980s Wentworth's West Course has been the annual host of the BMW PGA Championship and, as such, we know the place inside out.

For many of us the course will forever be associated with the renaissance decade of European golf when the circuit actually made two visits a year - spring for this event and autumn for the old World Match Play.

I can't think of the tree-lined fairways of the Burma Road without remembering Severiano Ballesteros, Nick Faldo, Sandy Lyle, Bernhard Langer and Ian Woosnam in their pomp.

So it was quite a blow when I pondered last weekend that those glory years are now four decades ago - which means that, when I was a small boy being inspired by those stars in the 80s, anyone blithering on about action four decades earlier would have been discussing Henry Cotton, Sam Snead and Ben Hogan in the 1940s.

A ludicrous way to make yourself feel ancient.

But it's also never wrong to consider the impact of this tournament's heritage as inspiration, not just for those of us who faff about outside the ropes (or watching on TV), but also those involved in the action.

In fact, last year Tyrrell Hatton was yet another example of a winner buoyed by memories - he even tweeted a photo of himself as a five-year-old that his mum sent him, walking the course at the event.

In the last 15 years David Howell, Paul Casey, Simon Khan, Luke Donald (twice), Rory McIlroy, Chris Wood and Danny Willett have told similar stories.

Even the Italians have been motivated by the backdrop. Matteo Manassero specifically wore Ballesteros green and blue in his final round, to honour memories of watching his hero at Wentworth on TV.

And Francesco Molinari told me at the end of his winning year of 2018 that he fondly recalled running home from school to watch Costantino Rocca win at Wentworth - it was only years later he learned that the event finished on a school day (Monday) because it was a British Bank Holiday.

Which leads me to this week's first pick - England's Aaron Rai.

The 26-year-old arrives at European Tour HQ having just won his PGA Tour card for the 2021/22 season, thus completing a wonderful golfing journey.

It began on a pitch and putt in his local park and the legacy of those early days is that Rai still wears two gloves (and for a long time continued to use 'castle' tees - I'm not sure if that remains the case).

I've had Rai on the radar for this event ever since he told me, shortly after graduating from the Challenge Tour, that he'd visited Wentworth as a kid.

He'd been transfixed by Ernie Els on the putting green. The South African noticed and wandered over. "Are you a real jolly giant?" Rai asked him. "Some of the time," Els chuckled.

Rai missed the cut on his championship debut in 2018, was a solid T26th a year later (ranking ninth for Strokes gained Tee to Green) and then got off to a fast start last year when a 68 had him tied eighth.

The 77 that followed saw him miss the cut, but there were mitigating circumstances: a fortnight before he very nearly won the Irish Open and the week before he did win the Scottish Open - he'd had a lot on his plate.

I like that little hint and I like that he has good form at other tree-lined venues - at Muthaiga, Valderrama, Hong Kong, Galgorm Castle.

Next Best: Shubhankar Sharma 1pt each-way @ 125/1

In addition to a fellow with an emotional attachment to Wentworth, I really like players who have experience of being in-contention at the event.

Fourteen of the last 16 winners had already slept on a Saturday night with dreams of victory before they completed the job (and one of the exceptions had finished sixth).

That thought prompts the remaining two selections and I start with India's Shubhankar Sharma who has been finding a bit of form in recent weeks.

He arrives having made six cuts in a row, opening the run with T30th and T32nd. Then he was T16th in the Hero Open with one bad round and tied ninth in the Cazoo Classic. He was tied ninth after 54 holes in the European Masters and, after a very slow start last week in the Italian Open (a 75 for T115th), he flew home for T12th.

He announced himself between trees, winning the South African Open at Randpark, shortly after playing well in Hong Kong, and shortly before audaciously threatening to win the WGC Mexico Championship at Chapultepec.

Back in 2019 he was third after 54 holes on his Wentworth debut, finishing T17th, and he made the cut here last year when in ordinary form. He's in better form now.

branden grace bmw champs.jpg

Final bet: Branden Grace 1pt each-way @ 40/1

I'll complete this week's team with South Africa's Branden Grace.

He's a nine-time winner on the European Tour who has said of Wentworth: "I'll normally play well around this place. I like it. I think it suits my eye pretty good."

He's proved that by finishing tied fifth on debut and repeating that finish in 2018. In-between he has also been tied ninth and T11th.

In three of those finishes he was top four with 18 holes to go so passes that test.

But he's also been in decent nick on the PGA Tour this year. He won the Puerto Rico Open, contended in two majors, was tied fourth at Muirfield Village and last month missed out in a play-off at Sedgefield.

He's a very solid each way price this week.

MATT'S 2021 P/L

Staked: 166pts
Returned: 212pts
P/L: +46pts

2020 P/L: -32pts

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