The European Tour returns to England this week for its flagship event, the BMW PGA Championship, and Steve Rawlings has the lowdown ahead of Thursday's start...
"The favourite prior to the final round has been beaten in each of the last seven years and we’ve seen some quite remarkable off-the-pace winners here over the years."
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 but when the US PGA Championship moved to May last year, the European Tour made the sensible decision to move the BMW PGA to an autumnal slot and it worked. The quality of the field improved and this week's line-up is the strongest of the season so far too.
Following the Abu Dhabi Championship way back in January and the Scottish Open last week, the BMW PGA Championship is the third of four Rolex Series events to be staged this year, with the final one - the DP World Tour Championship - being staged in two months' time.
Wentworth (West Course), Surrey, England
Par 72 - 7,284 yards
Stroke Index in 2019 - 72,25
Designed by Harry Colt and opened in 1926, the West Course, occasionally 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 five 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 Surrey's finest is nothing new.
Wentworth played to 7, 284 yards last year but the yardage on a number of holes have been altered slightly and the European Tour website shows an overall yardage of 7,276 this time around.
Live on Sky Sports all four days, beginning at 11:30 on Thursday
Last five winners with pre-event Exchange prices
2019 - Danny Willett -20 79/180.0
2018 - Francesco Molinari -17 21/122.0
2017 - Alex Noren -11 21/122.0
2016 - Chris Wood -9 69/170.0
2015 -Byeong-Hun An -21 179/1180.0
What will it take to win the BMW PGA Championship?
Danny Willett drove the ball nicely last year, ranking 15th for Driving Distance and 16th for Driving Accuracy but neither length nor accuracy are especially key factors here and in the last seven years 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.
Alex Noren only ranked 26th for Greens In Regulation when he won here three years ago and Rory McIlroy ranked 23rd six years ago but I'd suggest that's the best stat to look at for clues. When Willett won, ranking second for GIR last year, he became the ninth winner in 14 years to rank inside the top-four for that stat and the second and third, Jon Rahm and Christiaan Bezuidenhout, ranked seventh and first.
Willet only ranked eighth for Scrambling but the best three scramblers all finished inside the top-seven. Molinari scrambled better than anyone else when winning here two years ago 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.
Willett ranked second for PA but he was the only player inside the top-10 to rank any better than 15th. In 2018, Molinari won 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 15 winners is 16th 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 Simon 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 the majority of winners have previous form around Wentworth. Last year's winner, Willett, had finished fifth here on debut 10 years ago and he'd finished third in 2016.
Having finished inside the top-nine places in four of his five previous visits, Molinari won here two years ago, a year after finishing second to Alex Noren, who finished third behind Molinari when defending, with the 2014 winner, McIlroy, finishing second! And 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 too.
Previous Rolex Series winners worthy of close inspection
As this is the third of only four Rolex Series events this season, I've listed all the previous series winners to date below. They tend to go to fancied players, although this year's two winners have bucked the trend.
Last week's winner, Aaron Rai, was winning his first Rolex Series event but it's interesting to note that all of the Scottish Open winners have been outsiders since it became a Rolex Series event. That tournament appears to be something of an outlier given seven of the last nine Rolex Series events have been won by someone who had won at least one previously.
Rolex Series Winners
BMW PGA Championship 2017 - Alex Noren 21/122.0 1/2
Open de France 2017 - Tommy Fleetwood 24/125.0
Irish Open 2017 - Jon Rahm 17/118.0 1/3
Scottish Open 2017 - Rafa Cabrera-Bello 64/165.0
Italian Open 2017 - Tyrrell Hatton 19/120.0
Turkish Airlines Open 2017 - Justin Rose 8/19.2 1/2
Nedbank Golf Challenge 2017 - Branden Grace 17/118.0
DP World Championship 2017 - Jon Rahm 12/113.0 2/3
BMW PGA Championship 2018 - Francesco Molinari 21/122.0
Italian Open 2018 - Thorbjorn Olesen 129/1130.0
Open de France 2018 - Alex Noren 19.5 2/2
Irish Open 2018 - Russell Knox 26/127.0
Scottish Open 2018 - Brandon Stone 1000.0
Turkish Airlines Open 2018 - Justin Rose 5/15.8 2/2
Nedbank Golf Challenge 2018 - Lee Westwood 54/155.0
DP World Championship 2018 - Danny Willett 149/1150.0 1/2
Abu Dhabi Championship 2019 - Shane Lowry 89/190.0
Irish Open 2019 - Jon Rahm 9/110.0 3/3
Scottish Open 2019 - Bernd Wiesberger 45/146.0
BMW PGA Championship 2019 - Danny Willett 79/180.0 2/2
Italian Open 2019 - Bernd Wiesberger 54/155.0 2/2
Turkish Airlines Open 2019 - Tyrrell Hatton 19/120.0 2/2
Nedbank Golf Challenge 2019 - Tommy Fleetwood 19/120.0 2/2
DP World Championship 2019 - Jon Rahm 7/18.0 4/4
Abu Dhabi Championship 2020 - Lee Westwood 139/1140.0 2/2
Scottish Open 2020 - Aaron Rai 109/1110.0
Is there an identikit winner?
It's been a mixed bag price wise. A second win for Denmark's Anders Hansen (2007) and victories for Simon Khan (2010) and Matteo Manassero (2013) were unexpected. Very few saw Byeong-Hun An's victory coming five years ago and there was a four year stretch at the turn of the century when the winners were almost impossible to predict. After Monty won his three in-a-row, Andrew Oldcorn, Anders Hansen, Ignacio Garrido and Scott Drummond all left punters scratching their heads.
I wouldn't put anyone off backing an outsider or two given those results this century but to counter that, recent victories for Paul Casey, Donald (twice), McIlroy, Noren and Molinari were all fairly predictable.
The English have a really good record in this event, and six different Englishman have won seven of the last 14 renewals but the presence of home support has been a factor. Something the locals won't be enjoying this time around.
Winner's Position and Exchange Price Pre-Round Four
2019 - Danny Willett - tied for the lead 6/17.0
2018 - Francesco Molinari - tied for the lead 9/43.25
2017 - Alex Noren T23 - trailing by seven 219/1220.0
2016 - Chris Wood T5 - trailing by three 16.5
2015 - Byeong-Hun An - tied for the lead 11/43.7
As you'll see above, three of the last five winners have been tied for the lead with a round to go but all three were the least likely of the leaders to win through 54 holes.
Back in 2015, Byeong-Hun An was tied with Molinari, who was tied with Rory before the final round in 2018. Twelve months ago, Danny Willett entered the final round tied at the top with Jon Rahm. The favourite prior to the final round has been beaten in each of the last seven years and we've seen some quite remarkable off-the-pace winners here over the years.
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, and that did happen 12 months ago. Willett sat fifth and three off the lead after round one before being tied for the lead through rounds two and three but that's quite an unusual route to victory here.
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 219/1220.00 on Sunday morning three 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 1/51.2). 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.
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, Rikard Karlberg, began the final day fully eight strokes adrift of third round leader, Scott Hend. Karlberg was matched at 1000.00 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 7/17.8.
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. In the last six years, we've had five players trade at odds-on and lose before the fourth round has even begun. And two of them went odds-on during round two!
Just like Bjorn in 2014 and Molinari in 2015, Jon Rahm was matched at odds-on during round three last year (2/51.42) and Rory McIlroy hit the front as early as Friday morning in 2018, when he went as low as 8/151.54. And he was the second player in three years to go odds-on during round two and fail to get home! Danny Willet hit 5/61.85 on Friday in 2016.
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 backing longshots from off the pace here through 54 holes isn't a strategy I'm willing to throw away just yet.
Patrick Reed finished fourth here on debut last year and given he's a winner at other tree-lined venues (Augusta and Club de Golf Chapultepec), it shouldn't have been a surprise to see the course fit his eye. The world number nine is and should be favourite but how he responds to his US Open disappointment last time out is going to be interesting to see. He imploded on the back nine at Winged Foot in round three and, although he's since taken a nice break, that still needs overcoming.
Following his playoff defeat to Aaron Rai on Sunday, Tommy Fleetwood is another fancied runner that needs to overcome recent disappointment and I'm more than happy to swerve the likable Englishman before the off. With just one win in the last 32 months, Tommy is starting to become expensive to follow but he's definitely one to consider if he's lurking off the pace on Sunday.
He'd been tied for the lead with a round to go when he won his first European Tour title in a three-man playoff in 2013 but his four wins since have all been from off the pace and he's definitely better suited to chasing than leading. He won the Nedbank from six adrift last year, was beaten in a playoff at the Shenzhen International in 2017, having trailed by eight through 54 holes, and finished second to Brooks Koepka at the 2018 US Open, having begun the final round tied for 23rd and six off the lead.
Tyrrell Hatton has been in sparkling form at times this year but he's been too inconsistent to risk at less than 19/120.0. He's missed the cut here in each of the last two years.
Matthew Fitzpatrick has course form figures reading a useful 47-12-8-46 but he too looks short enough given he hasn't won in two years.
Justin Rose and Shane Lowry both have an abundance of solid Wentworth form and both are temptingly priced but neither has been playing especially well of late so I'm reluctantly leaving those two out too at this stage.
Ever since the restart, strong current form has been important. Rai won last week after contending strongly the week before and we've seen three players win two titles. George Coetzee followed a win on the Sunshine Tour with his Portugal Masters success a week later and both Sam Horsfield and John Catlin have won two European Tour titles in quick succession. With that in mind, I'm playing three of the aforementioned, plus Denmark's Rasmus Højgaard.
It's asking an awful lot of Aaron Rai to contend for a third week running but given he won from the wrong side of the draw last week (the AM-PM starters averaged more than four strokes more than the PM-AM wave), and that his first win on the European Tour came at tree-lined Fanling in Hong Kong, I couldn't leave him out at 59/160.0. He was extremely impressive down the stretch in Scotland and that's just too big.
Having already bagged two titles in August (the Hero Open and the Celtic Classic) I see no reason to doubt that Sam Horsfield can't take the next step and win a Rolex Series event at a course he immediately took to in 2018. Horsfield eventually finished 15th after a disappointing 73 on Sunday but he was inside the top-four places through rounds one, two and three.
Rasmus Højgaard has gone a bit cold since his win in the UK Championship at the end of August but a return to England, where he has summer form figures reading 2-6-3-1, might just do the trick. Debutants had a poor record at Wentworth for many years but they've been faring well of late. I can see Højgaard emulating fellow Danes Bjorn, Hansen and Soren Kjeldsen and taking to the track.
John Catlin, like the previous three picks, might have already done enough, and like Højgaard, he too is making his course debut, but I suspect he might enjoy the place given his skillset and the fact that Christiaan Bezuidenhout finished third here on debut last year after winning at tree-lined Valderrama. Like Horsfield, Catlin is also looking for a third win of the year following success in the Andalucía Masters and the Irish Open last month.
Aaron Rai @ 59/160.0
Sam Horsfield @ 59/160.0
Rasmus Højgaard @ 69/170.0
John Catlin @ 94/195.0
I'll be back later today with my Shriners Hospitals for Children Open preview.
*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter
New on Betting.Betfair – Betslip
You can now bet without leaving Betting.Betfair with our brand new on-site betslip for Exchange markets. You'll see the Exchange back and lay prices at the end of articles - simply login and place your bets as you would do on the main Exchange site