BMW PGA Championship: A preview and best bets for the big showdown at Wentworth
By Dave Tindall. Last Updated: 21/05/14 8:42am
The 18th green at Wentworth
The BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth has once again attracted a field worthy of its status as the European Tour's flagship event.
Rory McIlroy, Henrik Stenson, Justin Rose, Lee Westwood, Sergio Garcia, Luke Donald, Ian Poulter, Martin Kaymer... and so the list goes on.
Perhaps the only obvious omission is Graeme McDowell, who has stayed at home in Florida, with wife Kristin expecting the couple's first child this summer.
This is just one of two events to be held in England this year - the other, the Open Championship at Hoylake - and, appropriately, it has a history of producing homegrown winners.
Englishmen Tony Jacklin, Peter Oosterhuis and Maurice Bembridge won the first three PGA Championships at Wentworth from 1972-1974 and after a nine-year break - when it was played at Royal St George's, Royal Birkdale, St Andrews, Ganton and Hillside - the return to Wentworth saw another home-soil winner as Howard Clark took the trophy in 1984.
That tradition has been to the fore again in recent times with Luke Donald (2012 and 2011), Simon Khan (2010) and Paul Casey (2009) giving England four wins in the last five years.
The clubhouse complex and 1st tee at Wentworth
Tree-lined Wentworth has undergone numerous changes down the years and not without controversy. Ernie Els and his design team carried out a £6.5m revamp of the iconic West course ahead of the 2011 event and although much of it was well received many recoiled at the addition of a stream running in front of a new, smaller and more undulating 18th green. Els himself wasn't happy either as many gave up the gamble of going for the par five in two. The problem was addressed the following year with the green lowered and extended by 25% at the back. Last year the severe run-off area to the right of the 17th was altered to help less than 100% second shots falling down the hill, the club's SEO, Julian Small, explaining: "We want to encourage more players to try for a 4-4 (birdie-birdie) finish." Last year Matteo Manassero (-10) took victory after a play-off against 2010 winner Simon Khan and Scotland's Marc Warren. Luke Donald won with -15 in 2012 following two ultra-tough years in 2010 and 2011 when -6 prevailed although the discrepancy is partly explained by the 12th reverting back to a par five ahead of the 2013 event. Par now is 72 with the total yardage increased to 7,302 (3,501 on the front nine and 3,801 on the back).
The leading contenders (and Sky Bet odds)
Rory McIlroy (12/1): It's still one of the stranger stats in golf that Rory has yet to win a European Tour event on European soil. So can he get that niggling monkey off his back here at Wentworth? Most of the evidence isn't convincing with three missed cuts out of six and only one finish better than tied 24th. However, the fact that was a fifth place (2009) suggests it's dangerous to write Rory off. Although strong weekends when out of contention have given him 'backdoor' top 10s at Augusta and Sawgrass in recent weeks, it does seem a matter of time before he puts all four rounds together.
Lee Westwood (12/1): Westwood came agonisingly close to winning here in 2011 when losing to Luke Donald in a play-off when both the tournament and the world number one ranking were on the line. That was the Englishman's second runners-up finish here (the other was 2000) so this event has teased him. He did win the HSBC World Match Play Championship at Wentworth in 2000 so not all the memories are frustrating and the now US-based Westwood appears to be coming into fine form again. After a seventh at Augusta, he romped to victory in the Malaysian Open and last time out he was sixth in the Players Championship.
Justin Rose (14/1): Rose used to come and watch this event as an eight-year-old kid and says winning it is very high on his bucket-list. He's twice gone close, finishing runner-up in 2012 and 2007. The US Open champ was also 10th in 2010. There's a real sense that he's starting to peak again in recent weeks as he's improved his finish in his last four starts from 14th (Masters) to eighth (Zurich Classic) to fifth (Wells Fargo) to fourth (Players Championship). Speaking ahead of this week's event he said: "Wentworth is a massive tournament for me. You've got the majors and maybe a world event or two but, for me, it's right there with the best tournaments in the world."
Luke Donald (14/1): The event has always held a special place in Donald's heart as he "grew up just down the road" so always has a big gathering of family and friends following him around even though he's now based in Chicago of course. As well as his victories in 2011 and 2012, Luke was also second in 2010 and third in 2008 so his record really is phenomenal and seems immune to the course changes. As for recent form, he missed the cut in The Masters but, after that, took second place in The Heritage at Hilton Head. Of the new-look West Course he says: "Since the changes here, the course seems to have really suited my game and I feel very comfortable around this place."
Donald and Garcia: Among the favourites this week
Sergio Garcia (18/1): Sergio appeared in this event last year for the first time since 2000 and finished 19th. Back in 2000 he'd banked a fifth place while he was also runner-up in the HSBC World Match Play Championship in 2002 so he has had some success at this venue. Garcia was embroiled in a controversy at the European Tour's gala players' awards dinner on the Tuesday of last year's event and had to deny that a comment he made towards Tiger Woods was racist. Without any such controversy hanging over him this year, he could make a big run at the title - especially if his beloved Real Madrid have won the Champions League on the Saturday night!
Henrik Stenson (20/1): The Swede played here every year from 2001 to 2010, faring no more than modestly with best finishes of 8th in 2007 and 19th in 2006. He did though finish third in the HSBC World Match Play Championship in 2007. This will be his first start for four years though so the course changes will be new to him. Having been the best golfer on the planet in the second half of last year, he's lost some of his mojo in 2014 and a couple of fifth places have proved false dawns as he's followed them up with respective finishes of 54th and 34th on his next start.
Martin Kaymer (22/1): This is Kaymer's eighth straight start in this event and, although he's made six cuts out of seven, the German has never cracked the top 10. However, finishes of 11th (2009), 15th (2012) and 16th (2008) suggest he can do well here - especially in his current form. Two weeks ago, Kaymer played some superb golf to win the prestigious Players Championship and bank himself a massive cheque of $1.8m. He also played well in Texas last week before falling away on the weekend when perhaps his Sawgrass exertions caught up with him.
Francesco Molinari (22/1): Wentworth has always looked a good fit for Molinari's strong tee-to-green game and he's backed that up with finishes of seventh in 2012 and ninth last year. Those eye-catching numbers are likely to make him a popular pick this week (his coach, Sky Sports analyst Denis Pugh, seems more than happy to talk up his chances) while his current form is pretty good too. The Italian was fifth at Bay Hill in March, fourth in last month's China Open and sixth in the Players Championship at Sawgrass.
Miguel Angel Jimenez (28/1): This is turning into another vintage year for the vintage Spaniard. Defying his lack of length he finished fourth at Augusta and then stayed on in Georgia to take victory in his first ever start on the Champions Tour. And just last week he lit up another celebratory cigar after winning his home Spanish Open for the first time in 27 tries! Like a fine wine he's getting better with age and the 50-year-old must also like his chances here having won this tournament in 2008. He's also racked up further top fives at Wentworth in 2006, 2007 and 2013.
Miguel Angel Jimenez celebrates winning in Hong Kong
Had Simon Khan prevailed in the play-off last year, it would have been the fifth straight English winner of the European Tour's flagship event.
Clearly, there's a feeling among the English players that this is their "fifth major" and there's some obvious candidates to add to the great record of the home players.
Lee Westwood, Justin Rose and Luke Donald are right at the front of the betting and all must have a serious chance.
The nod, just, goes to Rose.
The US Open champion has been slow to come to the boil in 2014 having started the year with a shoulder injury but, in his last two starts, he's finished fifth at Quail Hollow and fourth in the Players Championship. Before that he was eighth in New Orleans and 14th in The Masters.
After two runners-up finishes here, he's desperate to add it to his CV and this could be the year.
Back Rose at 14/1.
Another Englishman, Chris Wood, has performed strongly on home soil in the past and is also worth a bet following his sudden upturn in form.
In his last two starts he's finished seventh in the Open de Espana and fifth in The Championship in Singapore (where he had just one bogey in his four rounds) - those two performances coming on the back of three missed cuts.
Wood's last seven starts on English soil have produced three top six finishes and include a fifth in The Open Championship and a sixth in this event in 2010 when he held a two-shot lead going into the final round.
He describes himself as a bit of a "home boy" and admits this is the best event he plays on the European Tour so, with comfort levels high, Wood could throw down a big challenge.
Have some 50/1.
A third Englishman worthy of interest is Tommy Fleetwood.
There's a view among the caddies that Fleetwood is the next surefire big hit on the European Tour and he's certainly dropping plenty of hints that he can live up to that billing.
Earlier this year he was the third round leader in the Volvo Golf Champions in South African before finishing third while in his last three starts he's finished second in the China Open and eighth in The Championship in Singapore.
Fleetwood, a winner of the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles last year, has made both his cuts at Wentworth and 12 months ago was a decent tied 24th so he looks like someone who could step up and get in the mix. Take him at 80/1.
Now for a Welshman.
At the Players Championship, Jamie Donaldson was asked to assess his last three months on the PGA Tour and he concluded: "It was my job to come out here to compete more in these bigger events like Doral and The Masters, and I've done that. It's always nice to play in the heat for a decent stretch."
A second place at Doral and a top 15 at Augusta confirm his progress and now he looks in good shape to have a crack at this title.
Jamie Donaldson: Good form in the US
Donaldson has some good form here with a 7th in 2011 and an eighth in 2005 and he's made the cut eight times out of nine.
A closing 67 last year and an opening 67 in 2012 show he can shoot good numbers on the West Course and the 35/1 looks a decent each-way price.
Finally, let's end with an Irishman - Shane Lowry.
The 27-year-old from County Offaly writes a column in the Irish Times and said last week: "My results haven’t been good so far this year. Nobody needs to remind me of that. I have my coach Neil Manchip out with me for the next two weeks, here in Spain and at next week’s BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth, and that always helps when he is around. I’m looking forward to getting stuck into it the next few weeks and to turn this bad form around.
"I was playing a practice round with Graeme Storm a few weeks back in Malaysia and I was hitting the ball so well that he turned to his caddie and said: “He’s going to win soon.” I feel that I am going to run into good form and playing eight of the next nine weeks is really what I need.
"I was actually in a similar position with my form going to Wentworth last year as I am now, looking for a spark. When I got to Wentworth, I felt a new energy. I think I was tied for the lead with six holes to play or something like that. It’s somewhere I feel I can play well."
That spark may have alreay arrived as, shortly after he penned that column, he ended a run of three missed cuts with a 15th in the Open de Espana.
He was 12th at Wentworth last year and fourth in 2011 so Lowry could make a big splash at 100/1.
3pts win Justin Rose at 14/1
1pt e.w. Chris Wood at 50/1 (1/4 1,2,3,4,5)
1pt e.w. Tommy Fleetwood at 80/1 (1/4 1,2,3,4,5)
1.5pts e.w. Jamie Donaldson at 35/1 (1/4 1,2,3,4,5)
1pt e.w. Shane Lowry at 100/1 (1/4 1,2,3,4,5)