BMW PGA Championship: Course experience could be the Wentworth key

Two-time winner Luke Donald has been backed at 32
Two-time winner Luke Donald has been backed at 32

It's the European Tour's big event so let Steve Rawlings arm you with all the info you need to have a successful BMW PGA Championship...

"Luke Donald's Wentworth form is simply superb and he showed a month ago that he can find something at a venue he likes when he finished runner-up to Branden Grace at Hilton Head on the PGA Tour. He's nowhere near the force he was when he won back-to back here but that effort in the RBC Heritage was very encouraging and in a much weaker field than expected, he may just represent value at 32.031/1."

Tournament History

Originally known as the British PGA Championship and first staged in 1955, the BMW PGA Championship has been the European Tour's flagship event since its inception in 1972.


Venue

Wentworth (West Course), Surrey, England.


Course Details

Par 72 - 7,302 yards
Stroke Index in 2014 - 72.6

Designed by Harry Colt and opened in 1926, the West Course, often referred to as Burma Road, has undergone a series of alterations in recent years, under the supervision of Ernie Els.

All the greens were remodelled in 2009/10 and the par 5 finishing hole was radically changed. At the mercy to modern equipment, the old 18th was an almost given birdie and a great eagle chance but now, with a large stream snaking its way in front of the green, it's a stunning risk/reward finishing hole.

Wentworth is a tight, fairly flat, tree-lined heathland course with tricky-to-read greens that usually run at around 10 on the stimpmeter.

It isn't a popular venue with a number of pros and as a result, the field isn't anywhere near as strong as it perhaps should be with many of the European stars absent again.

The course has been in the news a lot lately after new billionaire owners hiked up the joining and membership fees considerably, causing a lot of rich people to feel aggrieved about the prospect of being ousted by even richer people. A tragedy if ever there was one.


Weather Forecast


Alternative Weather Forecast


TV Coverage

Live on Sky all four days starting at 10:00 on Thursday.


Last Five Winners

2015 - Byeong-Hun An -21
2014 - Rory McIlroy -14
2013 - Matteo Manassero -10 (Playoff)
2012 - Luke Donald -15
2011 - Luke Donald -6 (Playoff) (Par 71)


What Will it Take to Win The BMW PGA Championship

Byeong-Hun An smashed it off the tee last year to top the Driving Distance stats and Rory McIlroy ranked third for DD when he won here in 2014 but I wouldn't give that too much credence. The winners that preceded them - Matteo Manassero, Luke Donald and Simon Khan - are all fairly short off the tee and the average DD ranking of the 12 winners before Rory was just 43.75.

An ranked 35th for Driving Accuracy and that's bang on the average ranking of the last five winners so I'd conclude that length nor accuracy is especially vital off the tee.

In addition to hitting it further than anyone else, An also ranked first for Scrambling, Par 3 Scoring, Sand Saves and Greens In Regulation. It's no wonder he won by seven really is it! The most important of those, and indeed all the stats, appears to be GIR. An was the sixth winner in ten years to rank inside the top-four for that key stat.

An had a Putting Average rankling of 11th but a couple of winners have managed to get the job done with a very cold putter. Anders Hansen ranked just 46th when he won the second of his two titles in 2007 and Khan putted even worse in 2010- he ranked 55th! It's all about pounding as many greens as possible and giving yourself as many looks at birdie as you can.


Is There an Angle In?

Byeong-Hun An was the first Asian winner of the PGA and he was just third debutant to win in its 60 year history and I'd be inclined to lean to those with previous course experience and in-particular those with course form. It's particularly important here, despite last year's result.

The greens take some getting used to and the wind is very difficult to gauge. You can be in one place on the course and not feel it at all but then walk on a few yards and it's blowing hard. The trees hide the wind well and it's very confusing for those without course experience.

Playing the venue plenty of times isn't usually enough though. Many very good players never seem to get to grips with Wentworth - which explains the absence of the likes of Ian Poulter, Padraig Harrington, Sergio Garcia and even Rory McIlroy, who has missed three of his last four cuts here. Course form in-particular is a big bonus...

Seven of the nine players in the top-ten behind An had previously recorded at least a top-eight finish at Wentworth and 12 months earlier, the first 11 home had all finished at least 12th at Wentworth previously. Only three of the 11 - Marcel Siem, who was 7th two years previously; Henrik Stenson, 8th in 2007; and Larrazabal, who was 12th in 2013, hadn't recorded a top-five finish prior to the 2014 renewal. Course form counts for plenty and An's victory is the exception and not the rule.


Is There an Identikit Winner?

The English have a decent record in this event and four Englishmen have won five of the last ten renewals. The Brits collectively have a very good record and last year was the just the second time since 1995 that the winner and/or runner-up didn't come from Britain or Ireland.

We've seen some really funny results here in the past and there was a four year stretch at the turn of the century when the winners were almost impossible to predict. After Monty had won three in-a-row between 1998 and 2000, Andrew Oldcorn, Anders Hansen, Ignacio Garrido and Scott Drummond all left punters scratching their heads.

Recent wins for Luke Donald (twice), Paul Casey and Rory were all fairly predictable but a second win for Hansen and victories for Simon Khan and Matteo Manassero were unexpected and very few saw An's victory coming 12 months ago. The Korean was matched at 220.0219/1 before the get-go.


In-Play Tactics

Although An won with consummate ease, moving from second place after round three to an incredible six clear after round four, Francesco Molinari was still matched in running on Saturday at 1.68/13 so even though we got a clear cut winner, there was still a beaten odds-on shot. This event often offers up plenty of great trading opportunities and the leaders are often worth opposing.

Wentworth is a difficult place to make the running. I've gone as far back as 1990 and the only leader or co-leader after round one to go on to take the title is Luke Donald. He went wire-to-wire in 2011, before beating Lee Westwood in a play-off.

Paul Casey won doggedly after hitting the front at halfway in 2009, as did David Howell in 2006, and between 2000 and 2002, all three 36-hole winners went on to convert but the leaders are always vulnerable here and I'll definitely be looking closely at those off the pace with a round to go.

Those tactics paid dividends three years ago when I was able to trade my way to a nice profit after backing both play-off protagonists Simon Khan at 150.0149/1 and Miguel Angel Jimenez at 160.0159/1 with a round to go. Both men started the final round five off the lead but finished strongly. Jimenez missed out on the play-off by just a stroke. And we saw all sorts of shenanigans two years ago when Thomas Bjorn failed to convert a five stroke lead with a round to play.

The Dane traded at a low of just 1.21/5 after a nice steady start but after birdying the par 5 4th he bogeyed the 5th and triple-bogeyed the 6th and it was game on. Shane Lowry took up the running and led by three at one stage and he was matched at just 1.511/2 but in the end, McIlroy swooped late to take the title having trailed by fully seven strokes, and he's far from the first to come from miles back to win.

In 2010, Khan was seven back after three rounds when he won. Jimenez came from four back in 2008 and in 2007, Anders Hansen won a three-man play-off, having trailed by five with a round to go. And in that play-off, he beat Justin Rose and Oliver Wilson, who themselves had been three and four back respectfully.

If you're going to bet in-running, the back nine is easier than the front nine and the short par 4 16th and the two par 5 finishing holes all offer up chances to pick up shots late on.


Market Leaders

US Masters Champ Danny Willett heads the market despite how poorly he played at the K Club over the weekend. He was matched in-running at around 2.56/4 after a fast start but his game unravelled over the weekend with umpteen short putts missed and several visits to the River Liffey.

He led this event after round one on debut but could only finish fifth and that's by some distance his best effort to date. He's yet to break the top-30 since and given how poorly he played over the weekend, he's quite easy to dismiss at the prices. I know he's now a major winner but I backed him in this at 65.064/1 last year and this time around he's a quarter that price.

Russell Knox is proving popular after his near miss in Ireland from the wrong side of the draw but he's playing Wentworth for the first time and can hardly be described as prolific. The 30-year-old America-based Scot has just two wins to his name to date. He won the Chiquita Classic on the Web.com Tour in 2011 and the WGC- HSBC Champions last November and of the market leaders, I prefer course-specialist, Shane Lowry.

Frustration appeared to get the better of Lowry last week when he too was attempting to play catch up from the disadvantaged early-late draw and I don't think he played anywhere near as bad as his 23rd place finish suggests. Nevertheless, with form figures reading 65-4-68-12-2-6, his course form is there for everyone to see and he's hardly a juicy price at around 17.016/1.

Francesco Molinari looks sure to go well again after finishing inside the top-ten at the Players Championship last time out and he's finished inside the top-ten in each of the last four years but he's a notoriously hard player to get across the line and place only betting might be the way forward with him. He may also make for a great trade in-running if trailing by five or six after three rounds but he makes no appeal win only before the off at around 20.019/1.


Selections

I've been through the field a number of times and nobody makes much appeal at the prices so stakes are tiny and I've picked out just three.

Luke Donald's Wentworth form is simply superb and he showed a month ago that he can find something at a venue he likes when he finished runner-up to Branden Grace at Hilton Head on the PGA Tour. He's nowhere near the force he was when he won back-to back here but that effort in the RBC Heritage was very encouraging and in a much weaker field than expected, he may just represent value at 32.031/1.

I haven't got any stats to back up my theory but I've noticed players find an improvement in form soon after defending a title, and that's one of the reasons I've had a very small bet on Denmark's Soren Kjeldsen. The neat and tidy Dane finished a respectable 19th when defending in Ireland last week and with a couple of top-tens to his name at Wentworth, and not long after a late rallying fourth at Valderrama and a fantastic seventh at the US Masters, I thought he too was an interesting contender.

And finally, I've thrown a few pounds at James Morrison, who led this event by four strokes at halfway back in 2012. Morrison, who lives locally, has been playing well of late and he was a winner last year in Spain. I thought 80.079/1 was probably fair enough after his top-ten finish last week.


Selections
Luke Donald @ 32.031/1
Soren Kjeldsen @ circa 44.043/1 (40/1 Sportsbook)
James Morrison @ 80.079/1


I'll be back later tonight or early in the morning with my Dean & Deluca Invitational preview.


*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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