BMW PGA Championship: Rasmus ready to go in again

The 18th at Wentworth
The 18th hole at Wentworth

With no PGA Tour event, the European Tour's flagship event, the BMW PGA Championship, takes centre stage and Steve Rawlings has the lowdown ahead of Thursday's start here...

"From a course correlation perspective, it’s impossible to ignore how many players have played well here and at Crans, the venue of the Omega European Masters two weeks ago."

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.

The tournament used to be staged in May but when the USPGA Championship moved to May in 2019, 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 in January and the Scottish Open in July, 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.

Venue

Wentworth (West Course), Surrey, England

Course Details

Par 72 - 7,267 yards
Stroke Index in 2020 - 71.88

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 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 2021 3rd 12th.jpg

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 annua 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 was 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.

Weather Forecast

TV Coverage

Live on Sky Sports all four days, beginning with Featured Group coverage at 08:30 on Thursday

Last Six Winners with Pre-event Exchange Prices

2020 - Tyrrell Hatton -19 @ 22.021/1
2019 - Danny Willett -20 80.079/1
2018 - Francesco Molinari -17 22.021/1
2017 - Alex Noren -11 22.021/1
2016 - Chris Wood -9 70.069/1
2015 -Byeong-Hun An -21 180.0179/1

What Will it Take to Win the BMW PGA Championship?

I'd slightly favour accuracy over distance off the tee here but neither are especially key factors and in the last eight years we've seen winners rank first (Byeong-Hun An 2015) and 70th for Driving Distance (Matteo Manassero 2013) and as high as fourth and as low as 47th for Driving Accuracy. Last year's winner, Tyrrell Hatton, ranked 31st for DD and fifth for DA.

Hatton only ranked 22nd for Greens In Regulation but the runner-up, Victor Perez, ranked second and Andy Sullivan, who finished tied for third, ranked fifth.

When Willett won in 2019, ranking second for GIR, 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.

Scrambling has been a key stat of late and nobody got up-and down more often than the winner last year with Patrick Reed, who finished alongside Sullivan in third, ranking second for Scrambling. Willet only ranked eighth in 2019 but the best three scramblers all finished inside the top-seven two years ago, Francesco Molinari scrambled better than anyone else when winning here three years ago and the first five home in 2017 all ranked inside the top-eight for Scrambling.

Tyrrell Hatton wins PGA.jpg

Hatton putted nicely enough, ranking 11th for Strokes Gained Putting and 14th for Putting Average and that was a standard performance on the greens at Wentworth.

The average Putting Average ranking of the last 16 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 is 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, even if it dates back a few years...

Last year's winner, Hatton, had Wentworth figures reading 38-46-7-30-MC-MC (with the seventh place dating back to 2016), and the 2019 champ, Willett, had finished fifth here on debut nine years earlier and he'd finished third in 2016.

Having finished inside the top-nine places in four of his five previous visits, Molinari won here three 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.

From a course correlation perspective, it's impossible to ignore how many players have played well here and at Crans, the venue of the Omega European Masters two weeks ago.

The likes of Nick Faldo, Seve Ballesteros, Colin Montgomerie, Luke Donald, Miguel Angel Jimenez, Danny Willett and Alex Noren have all won both events at least once and there are numerous examples of players winning one and finishing second in the other or finishing second in both. That list includes Francesco Molinari, Lee Westwood, Ernie Els and Trevor Immelmann. And Crans specialist, Thomas Bjorn, really should have won this event back in 2015 when he led by five after three rounds.

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. The Scottish Open apart, which is a bit of an outsiders event, they tend to go to fancied players.

It was no surprise to see last year's Wentworth winner, Hatton, come up trumps in Abu Dhabi this year and as many as nine of the last 13 Rolex Series events have been won by someone who had won at least one previously. And that could easily have been ten. Matt Fitzpatrick was winning the DP World Tour Championship for a second time last year, but he first won it in 2016, just before the Rolex Series began.

Rolex Series Winners

BMW PGA Championship 2017 - Alex Noren 22.021/1 1/2
Open de France 2017 - Tommy Fleetwood 25.024/1
Irish Open 2017 - Jon Rahm 18.017/1 1/3
Scottish Open 2017 - Rafa Cabrera-Bello 65.064/1
Italian Open 2017 - Tyrrell Hatton 20.019/1
Turkish Airlines Open 2017 - Justin Rose 9.28/1 1/2
Nedbank Golf Challenge 2017 - Branden Grace 18.017/1
DP World Championship 2017 - Jon Rahm 13.012/1 2/3
BMW PGA Championship 2018 - Francesco Molinari 22.021/1
Italian Open 2018 - Thorbjorn Olesen 130.0129/1
Open de France 2018 - Alex Noren 19.5 2/2
Irish Open 2018 - Russell Knox 27.026/1
Scottish Open 2018 - Brandon Stone 1000.0
Turkish Airlines Open 2018 - Justin Rose 5.85/1 2/2
Nedbank Golf Challenge 2018 - Lee Westwood 55.054/1
DP World Championship 2018 - Danny Willett 150.0149/1 1/2
Abu Dhabi Championship 2019 - Shane Lowry 90.089/1
Irish Open 2019 - Jon Rahm 10.09/1 3/3
Scottish Open 2019 - Bernd Wiesberger 46.045/1
BMW PGA Championship 2019 - Danny Willett 80.079/1 2/2
Italian Open 2019 - Bernd Wiesberger 55.054/1 2/2
Turkish Airlines Open 2019 - Tyrrell Hatton 20.019/1 2/2
Nedbank Golf Challenge 2019 - Tommy Fleetwood 20.019/1 2/2
DP World Championship 2019 - Jon Rahm 8.07/1 4/4
Abu Dhabi Championship 2020 - Lee Westwood 140.0139/1 2/2
Scottish Open 2020 - Aaron Rai 110.0109/1
BMW PGA Championship 2019 - Tyrrell Hatton 22.021/1 3/3
DP World Championship 2019 - Matthew Fitzpatrick 22.021/1
Abu Dhabi Championship 2021 - Tyrrell Hatton 14.5 4/4
Scottish Open 2021 - Min Woo Lee 330.0329/1

Is There an Identikit Winner?

It's been a real mixed bag, price wise. The last five winners have all gone off at double-figure prices and three of the last four were very well fancied but historically, it's been a cracking event for outsiders.

A second win for Denmark's Anders Hansen (2007) and victories for Simon Khan (2010) and Matteo Manassero (2013) were unexpected and very few saw Byeong-Hun An's victory coming six 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 had 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 and I'll be back later today or tomorrow with the Find Me a 100 Winner Column.

Willett wins at Wentworth.jpg

The English have a really good record in this event and with Luke Donald winning back-to-back in 2011 and 2012, seven different Englishman have won eight of the last 15 renewals.

Winner's Position and Exchange Price Pre-Round Four

2020 - Tyrrell Hatton - led by three 1.9620/21
2019 - Danny Willett - tied for the lead 7.06/1
2018 - Francesco Molinari - tied for the lead 3.259/4
2017 - Alex Noren T23 - trailing by seven 220.0219/1
2016 - Chris Wood T5 - trailing by three 16.5
2015 - Byeong-Hun An - tied for the lead 3.711/4

In-Play Tactics

As you'll see above, Hatton was clear with a round to go and three of the last six 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 and two years ago, Danny Willett entered the final round tied at the top with Jon Rahm.

Prior to last year, the favourite before the final round was been beaten for seven years in-a-row and we've seen some quite remarkable off-the-pace winners here over the years...

For the 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 has been the case here for the last two editions. Hatton and Willett were always up with the pace but that's quite an unusual route to victory here...

I've gone as far back as 1990 and other than Hatton last year, who was tied for the lead, 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 220.0219/1 on Sunday morning four 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 1.21/5). 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 and it hasn't in each of the last two 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 (another player with Crans form). 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 7.87/1.

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 seven 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 in 2019 (1.422/5) and Rory McIlroy hit the front as early as Friday morning in 2018, when he went as low as 1.548/15. And he was the second player in three years to go odds-on during round two and fail to get home! Danny Willet hit 1.855/6 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 it should do given the weather we're witnessing this week and backing longshots from off the pace here through 54 holes isn't a strategy I'm willing to throw away just yet.

Market Leaders

After his tied fifth at the Tour Championship on Sunday, Viktor Hovland is a very worthy favourite.

The Norwegian superstar had only one weakness in the early part of his career and that was his ability to save strokes around the green but given he's ranked fourth and fifth for Scrambling in each of his last two starts, and that he ranked seventh when he won the BMW International Open on the European Tour in June, that doesn't appear to be an issue anymore.

Hovland finished 11th last year on debut and he looks a fair price at around 10.09/1.

There's been plenty of cash for Ireland's Shane Lowry and I can see why. He has a very solid bank of Wentworth form (eight top-15s from 11 starts) and up until the birth of his second daughter, Ivy, last week, he'd been in fair form on the PGA Tour.

Shane Lowry wins The Open.jpg

Lowry currently occupies the occupies the ninth and final automatic spot for the European Ryder Cup team so he'll be keen to have a good week to secure his place but he looks short enough at around 20.019/1.

The defending champ, Tyrrell Hatton, and fellow Englishman, Matthew Fitzpatrick (a two-time winner at Crans) are very onvious candidates but neither are in sparkling form and at slightly bigger odds, the 2017 winner, Alex Noren, looks a better prospect having just had a decent season on the PGA Tour.

After finishing 16th in the Olympics, the veteran Swede finished fourth in The Northern Trust and ninth at the BMW Championship so he's in fine fettle.

Tommy Fleetwood is the only other player trading at less than 30.029/1 but he's easy to overlook given he yet again fell short in-contention on Sunday in Italy, making a pair of bogeys coming in after trading at odds-on for the title. He's one to consider from off the pace.

Selections

Rasmus Højgaard missed the cut on debut last year but he wasn't in the best of form at the time and that's pretty much the only negative.

Having won at Crans two weeks ago, Rasmus will be motivated to keep going by his twin brother Nicolai's success in Italy on Sunday and he has a quite brilliant record in England. Prior to his missed cut here last year he had form figures last summer reading 2-6-3-1, and he should have won the Cazoo Classic in Kent last month when he finished third after leading by three with a round to go.

I'm happy to overlook last year's effort given his Crans win suggests he should take to the track and emulate fellow Danes, Bjorn, Hansen and Soren Kjeldsen, who have all enjoyed the course over the years. At just 20, he's already won three times on the European Tour and at 65.064/1, he's a great price to make it four.

I was very tempted to play Bernd Wiesberger, who really should have won in Crans, and I'll be back later or tomorrow with my Find Me a 100 Winner picks, but my only other pick for now is Italy's Guido Migliozzi, who's another young rising star on the European Tour.

He started far too slowly to figure in his homeland last week (finished 34th) and he's missed the cut here in his only two previous visits but his seventh in Crans was an eye-catching performance and he just looks over-priced for someone that knows how to win.

Migliozzi was second in England back in May when he lost a playoff at the Belfry to Richard Bland in the British Masters and he followed that up with a second in Denmark and a fourth at the US Open. If, as I suspect to be the case, he's rounding back into form, he's a juicy price at 70.069/1.

Selections:
Rasmus Højgaard @ 65.064/1
Guido Migliozzi @ 70.069/1

*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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