We're off to Wentworth for the European Tour's flagship event so read The Punter's in-depth BMW PGA preview ahead of Thursday's start here...
"In the last five years, we’ve had four players trade at odds-on and lose before the fourth round has even begun. And two of them went odds-on during round two!"
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 tournament used to be staged in May and it was the first Rolex Series event of the year last year but with the USPGA Championship moving to May, and the PGA Tour season finishing earlier, the European Tour made the sensible decision to move their flagship event to this new autumnal slot and they've been rewarded with a stellar field.
The BMW PGA Championship is now the fourth Rolex Series event and the first of five remaining as the European Tour finishes the year with some really strong tournaments.
Wentworth (West Course), Surrey, England
Par 72 - 7,284 yards
Stroke Index in 2018 - 71.88
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.
Wentworth is a tight, fairly flat, tree-lined heathland course with tricky-to-read greens that were all changed before the 2017 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.
Wentworth used to stage the now defunct Volvo World Match Play at this time of year so high-class autumnal golf at Surry's finest is nothing new and the course is said to be in excellent condition this year.
Sky Sports will provide some 'live on the range' coverage on Wednesday and the live tournament coverage begins at 10:00 on Thursday and Friday and midday on Saturday and Sunday (UK time).
Last Five Winners
2018 - Francesco Molinari -17
2017 - Alex Noren -11
2016 - Chris Wood -9
2015 - Byeong-Hun An -21
2014 - Rory McIlroy -14
What Will it Take to Win the BMW PGA Championship?
Francesco Molinari played exceptionally well off the tee last year, ranking 15th for Driving Distance and fourth for Driving Accuracy but as a rule, neither length nor accuracy are especially key factors here and in the last six years alone we've seen winners rank first (Byeong-Hun An 2015) and 70th for DD (Matteo Manassero 2013) and as high as fourth and as low as 47th for DA.
Noren only ranked 26th for Greens In Regulation two years ago and Rory McIlroy ranked 23rd five years ago but I'd suggest that's the best stat to look at for clues. When Francesco Molinari won, ranking fourth for GIR last year, he became the eighth winner in 13 years to rank inside the top-four for that stat and nobody inside the top-six ranked any worse than eighth for GIR.
Molinari scrambled better than anyone else last year and the first five home in 2017 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. Molinari won last year with a Putting Average ranking of 25th and he finished runner-up the year before ranking 61st and Henrik Stenson finished tied for third ranking 50th.
The average Putting Average ranking of the last 14 winners is 17th but prior to the changes to the greens, before the 2017 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.
Is There an Angle In?
This a nuanced track and past course form counts for plenty. Year after year we see the same faces in-the-mix and last year was no exception. Having finished inside the top-nine places in four of his five previous visits, Molinari won a year after finishing second to Alex Noren, who finished third behind Molinari last year, with the 2014 winner, McIlroy, finishing second! Back in 2017, three of the top-five had finished at least eighth previously.
Luke Donald (back-to-back in 2011 and 2012) was the last multiple event winner but multiple winners are fairly common. Peter Alliss, Colin Montgomerie and Bernard Langer have all won the event three times (Monty did in consecutive years between 1998 and 2000) and Nick Faldo has won it four times. 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 and five different Englishman have won six of the last 13 renewals. The Brits collectively have a very good record too and the 2017 result was odd in that respect given none of the top-five were Brits. Prior to two years ago, 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.
The last two winners, Molinari and Noren, were both well-fancied [22.0] shots, and Wood wasn't a rank outsider in 2016 either. The Englishman went off at around [70.0] 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 his three in-a-row, Andrew Oldcorn, Anders Hansen, Ignacio Garrido and Scott Drummond all left punters scratching their heads.
Recent wins for Molinari, Noren, 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 four 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.
Molinari started fairly slowly last year and he sat five off the lead and tied for 29th after a two-under-par 70 on day one. A second round 67 saw him move up into a tie for fifth but he still trailed Rory by five. The Irishman then stuttered on Saturday with a 71 and after Molli's 66, the pair were tied and four clear of the remainder with around to go. He went on to win very comfortably by two strokes (was four clear with two to play) but 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 two years ago, 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 in the last five years, we've had four players trade at odds-on and lose before the fourth round has even begun. And two of them went odds-on during round two!
The BMW PGA Championship is over four rounds and four days, just like any other ordinary stroke play event on the European or PGA Tour, but it somehow feels like a longer tournament than most and the winning line feels like it's a long way off.
Rory McIlroy hit the front as early as Friday morning and he was soon trading at odds-on (went as low as [1.54]) but he was the second player in three years to go odds-on during round two and fail to get home (Danny Willet hit [1.85] on Friday in 2016) and he was the fourth to go odds-on and lose before round four in the last five years.
Molinari hit a low of [1.6] during round three in 2015 and Thomas Bjorn touched odds-on during the third round on Saturday in 2014, when he raced clear of the field before collapsing on Sunday.
The change from May to September might, in the fullness of time, see a change to the trends as the course shouldn't firm up as much in autumn as it did in spring but we're lucky enough to see the sun all week until Sunday this week so look out for more market mayhem.
After his win at the Tour Championship and his playoff defeat in Switzerland last time out, it's impossible to crab Rory McIlroy's current form and he has a win, a second and a fifth to his name at Wentworth but his form here is a real mixed bag and those three top-fives are accompanied by a 48th, a 24th and three missed cuts.
His victory, like so many at Wentworth, was from off the pace and he was beaten last year having led by three at the halfway point. He has an obvious chance but he might be a better bet in-running if he starts slowly.
Irish Open winner, Jon Rahm, like a number of PGA Tour players in the field this week, is making his Wentworth debut and that could be construed as a sizable negative. Up until four years ago, I would put a line straight through the first timers as 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 in 2017 on his first look so we can't just dismiss the exceptionally talented Spaniard on account of this being his first look. It's enough to put me off at the price though.
It's 13 years since Paul Casey won the penultimate Volvo Match Play to be played here and ten years since he won this event so he has a superb record here. He's yet to win back-to-back tournaments so the fact that he followed up his third in the Tour Championship with a win at the Porsche European Open two weeks ago could be considered a bit of a negative but he does tend to hold his form quite well generally and that doesn't put me off. He finished only 20th last year but that was his first return to the venue in five years and I suspect he may go very well this week.
Paul Casey is no bigger than 14/1 on the High Street and that's about right for me so I was more than happy to get him onside at [18.5]. He sounded relaxed and happy on the way to victory in Germany two weeks ago and I can see him going well again here. I recall backing him at around the 9/1 mark when he won this ten years ago so I'm more than happy to back him at nearly twice the price this time around given how well he's playing.
Alex Noren has had a poor year and his missed cut at the European Masters (an event he's previously won twice) was especially disappointing but he has shown glimpses (11th in the Open Championship) and I'm happy to throw a few pounds in his direction given he finished third when defending the title last year.
My third and final pick is Bernd Wiesberger and my reasoning for his selection can be found here in the Each-Way column.
Paul Casey @ [18.5]
Bernd Wiesberger @ [46.0]
Alex Noren @ [65.0]
I'll be back later with my Sanderson Farms Championship preview.
*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter