We're off to Wentworth for one of the highlights of the European Tour season and Steve Rawlings has dug out a pair of Englishmen to go to war with. Read The Punter's in-depth BMW PGA preview here...
“Hatton has won three times already on the European Tour and the last of his three wins was at the Italian Open, at tree-lined Golf Club Milano in October last year. Lots of players with Wentworth form have shown up at Golf Club Milano so that looks a very solid pointer and Club de Golf Chapultepec, the home of the WGC-Mexico Championship, where Tyrrell was narrowly beaten in March, is also tree-lined.”
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.
The BMW PGA Championship is the first of eight Rolex Series events and it's attracted a decent if not spectacular field with the likes of Rory McIlroy, Paul Casey, Alex Noren and Tommy Fleetwood all in attendance.
Live music was introduced last year, with Status Quo playing on Saturday night and the Kaiser Chiefs on Sunday. This year, Rudimental play on Saturday and Simple Minds will close the event on Sunday night.
Wentworth (West Course), Surrey, England
Par 72 - 7,284 yards
Stroke Index in 2017 - 73.28
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 of 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.
It was one of just four holes to average below par last year, at 4.84, and Alex Noren's eagle on Sunday (see below) was one of a dozen made there throughout the week. But there were 49 bogeys and 18 dreaded others (double-bogey or worse) so it's no straightforward gimme birdie hole.
That shot of the week pic.twitter.com/HaTiQjnu0D— The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) May 28, 2017
Wentworth is a tight, fairly flat, tree-lined heathland course with tricky-to-read greens that were all changed before last year's renewal. The bentgrass/poa unua blend was replaced with pure bentgrass to get a truer and faster roll and a brand-new sub-air system was installed throughout the course to help keep the greens fast and dry.
In addition to the changes made to the greens, the bunkering throughout the course were changed to try and restore the course closer to its original Harry Colt ethos. It was felt that previous reworks had produced bunkering that was just too deep and not in keeping with the original design philosophy.
Sky Sports will provide some 'live on the range' coverage on Wednesday and there will be pro-am highlights on Wednesday evening too but it all kicks off on Thursday.
Live coverage begins at 10:00 on Thursday and Friday and 11:30 on Saturday and Sunday.
Last Five Winners
2017 - Alex Noren -11
2016 - Chris Wood -9
2015 - Byeong-Hun An -21
2014 - Rory McIlroy -14
2013 - Matteo Manassero -10 (Playoff)
What Will it Take to Win the BMW PGA Championship?
Alex Noren ranked 34th for Driving Distance and 32nd for Driving Accuracy last year and that's fairly apt. Neither length nor accuracy are key factors here and in the last five years alone we've seen winners rank first for DD (Byeong-Hun An 2015) and 70th (Matteo Manassero 2013) and we've seen winners rank as high as seventh for DA (Chris Wood in 2016) and as low as 47th (Manny again).
Noren only ranked 26th for Greens In Regulation but I'd suggest that's the best stat to look at for clues. When Chris Wood ranked fourth for GIR in 2016, he became the seventh winner in 11 years to rank inside the top-four for that stat.
The first five home 12 months ago all ranked inside the top-eight for Scrambling but in other years that hasn't been an especially important stat and neither has Putting Average.
I thought the new greens might result in the better putters prospering but I can't conclude that to be the case given the figures. Noren had a Putting Average of ninth but Francesco Molinari finished second with a PA ranking of 61st and Henrik Stenson finished tied for third ranking 50th.
The average Putting Average ranking of the last 13 winners is 16.38 but prior to the changes to the greens before last year's edition, several players took the title despite putting fairly poorly. Anders Hansen ranked just 46th when he won the second of his two titles in 2007 and Khan putted even worse in 2010, when he ranked 55th.
Although he won with an impressive 14-under-par total, Rory McIlroy didn't play the short holes well when he won in 2014. He played the par threes in two-over, whereas. Shane Lowry, who finished runner-up to Rory, played them in seven-under-par to rank first for Par 3 Scoring and that might be a stat to consider given five of the last six winners have ranked either first or second for the week on the short holes.
Is There an Angle In?
Up until three years ago, I'd put a line straight through the first timers. Only two had won in 60 years but I'm a bit more reluctant to do so now. Following An's victory on debut in 2015, first-timer, Rikard Karlberg, finished runner-up in 2016 and Hideto Tanihara finished tied for third last year on his first look. Past course form still counts for plenty though and year after year we see the same faces in-the-mix.
Nicolas Colsaerts was something of a surprise contender last year, although he did have top-30 finishes in three of his previous four starts at Wentworth, but three of the top-five had finished at least eighth previously and the places are usually dominated by course specialists.
Chris Wood had twice finished inside the top-six prior to his victory in 2016, Danny Willett, who finished third behind Wood, had been fifth on debut in 2010 and Thomas Aiken and Julien Quesne, who both finished tied for fourth, had both finished inside the top-ten previously. Aiken had done so twice before.
Seven of the nine players in the top-ten behind An in 2015 had previously recorded at least a top-eight finish at Wentworth and in 2014 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.
Is There an Identikit Winner?
The English have a decent record in this event with five different Englishman winning six of the last 12 renewals. The Brits collectively have a very good record too and last year's result was odd in that respect given none of the top-five were Brits. Prior to last year, the 2015 edition, when An beat Thailand's Thongchai Jaidee and Spanish legend, Miguel Angel Jimenez, had been only the second time since 1995 that the winner and/or runner-up hadn't come from Britain or Ireland.
Noren was a well-fancied [22.0] chance 12 months ago and Wood wasn't a rank outsider a year earlier either. The Englishman went off at around [70.0] in 2016 but 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 Noren last year, 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 three years ago. The Korean was matched at [220.0] before the get-go, so don't be afraid to back an outsider or two.
For the vast majority of tournaments, I stress the importance of being up in the van throughout, getting a fast start and being up with the leaders, but that's definitely not the case this week. Wentworth is a venue were playing catch-up is perfectly possible and we've seen all sorts of fun on a Sunday of late.
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 again.
Noren was matched at [220.0] on Sunday morning last year as he sat outside the top-20 with a round to go. That's as far off the lead as any winner has been at Wentworth through 54 holes since 1990 but he was the third winner in eight years to trail by seven strokes with a round to go!
Simon Khan sat tied for 13th and seven back before his win in 2010 and Rory McIlroy trailed Thomas Bjorn by seven in 2014 (Bjorn was matched at just [1.2]). Between 1990 and 2006, 12 of the 16 winners led or co-led with a round to go and Tony Johnstone, in 1992, was the only winner not to be inside the front three places through 54 holes. He sat tied for fifth and three off the lead but it's been a completely different kettle of fish since David Howell's victory in 2006.
Paul Casey, Luke Donald and Byeong-Hun An are the only men to have successfully converted a 54 hole lead in the last 12 renewals and in addition to the three aforementioned winners from seven adrift, we've seen victories from three, four and five strokes back. It's not going to happen every year, but being patient in-running and waiting for Sunday to play the chasers at big prices has been a great way to play the tournament of late.
In addition to all those big off-the-pace winners, we nearly witnessed another huge comeback win in 2016 when the runner-up, Karlberg, began the final day fully eight strokes adrift of third round leader, Scott Hend. He was matched at [1000.0] in-running but he'll look back and rue his bogey at the 16th hole as he finished up losing by one having been matched at just [7.8].
As the course dries out, Wentworth becomes tough over the weekend and with the change to the course comes plenty of change to the leaderboard and incredibly, in the last four years, we've had three players trade at odds-on and lose before the fourth round has even begun!
Danny Willet was matched at just [1.85] after only 27 holes in 2016, Francesco Molinari hit a low of [1.6] during round three in 2015 and Bjorn touched odds-on during the third round on Saturday in 2014, when he raced clear of the field before collapsing on Sunday.
Rory McIlroy returns to Wentworth for the first time since he missed the cut in 2015, 12 months after he won here. That was his seventh appearance in total and his fourth missed cut so his come-from-behind victory in 2014 is an outlier, although he did finish fifth in 2009.
It's really hard to know which Rory will turn up in Surrey this week as it's been a mixed bag, form wise, since he won the Arnold Palmer in March. On paper his form looks OK but he's not for me this week.
Prior to missing the cut at Sawgrass last time out, he finished tied for fifth at Augusta, despite a poor final round, and he was a respectable tied 16th in the Wells Fargo a month later but the way he finished the US Masters was hugely disappointing and he'd have been equally dissatisfied to finish so far down the leaderboard at Quail Hollow, given how much he enjoys the venue.
Defending champ, Alex Noren, has threatened to win on the PGA Tour several times this year. He was beaten by Jason Day at the Farmers Insurance Open, he was third at the Honda Classic and he made the semi-finals at the WGC - Match Play. A pair of missed cuts at Augusta and Quail Hollow were disappointing but his tied 17th in the Players Championship last time out was a better effort than the bare result suggests. His third round 77 sticks out like a sore thumb given he opened and closed the event with a pair of 66s and given he shot 69 in round two.
The Swede's Wentworth form reads a somewhat confusing MC-6-21-74-MC-21-32-WD-8-43 prior to last year's sensational off-the-pace success so he too is hard to fathom and perhaps one to swerve.
Tommy Fleetwood will have his supporters this week after his tied seventh in the Players Championship last time out but with course form figures reading 49-24-MC-6-69-MC I'm not one of them and the only one I like towards the head of the market is England's Paul Casey.
The world number 10 is notoriously tricky to get across the line on the PGA Tour but he was a regular winner in Europe before he based himself in the States. He won this event in 2009, as well as the now defunct HSBC Match Play here in 2006, so we know he loves the venue and he comes here in good heart having won the Valspar in March, finished 15h at Augusta and fifth last time out in the Wells Fargo.
He's a fraction short for my liking but I can see him going very well, although it has to be highlighted that on his last two visits, in 2012 and 13, he missed the cut.
Since finishing third in Dubai and Mexico at the beginning of the year, Englishman, Tyrrell Hatton, has been a bit disappointing and he's missed two of his last three cuts, but I'm prepared to give him a go at [40.0].
Hatton ranks 13th for Par 3 Performance and third for Greens In Regulation over the last six months on the European Tour so he's a decent fit stats wise and although his Wentworth form figures so far read a not especially inspiring 38-46-7-30, he's shown an aptitude for a tree-lined venue recently.
Hatton has won three times already on the European Tour and the last of his three wins was at the Italian Open, at tree-lined Golf Club Milano in October last year. Lots of players with Wentworth form have shown up at Golf Club Milano so that looks a very solid pointer and Club de Golf Chapultepec, the home of the WGC-Mexico Championship, where Tyrrell was narrowly beaten in March, is also tree-lined.
My only other selection is another Englishman - Andrew Johnston.
Johnston has been playing quite nicely of late, finishing 12th in Oman, second in India and 12th in Spain in his last three outings and he has a very similar profile to Hatton.
Like Hatton, 'Beef' ranks highly for Par 3 Performance and Greens In Regulation over the last six months on the European Tour (fifth and ninth), his Wentworth figures read MC-7-21 and his sole success to date came at a tree-lined venue - Valderrama.
Tyrrell Hatton @ [40.0]
Andrew Johnston @ [65.0]
I'll be back tomorrow with my Fort Worth Invitational preview.
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