Here we are ladies and gentleman, the European Tour is in full swing of its actual European events and this week we are on English soil for the BMW PGA Championship.
It is one of the flagship events in the calendar year and with it, you sort of get that purring feeling in the build up to the amazing tournaments on the horizon. The summer really starts here.
The field is usually strong for the BMW and blimey is this year no different. What an incredible array of worldwide talent mixed with those European Tour stalwarts we will be treated with. Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, Luke Donald, Lee Westwood, Henrik Stenson, Sergio Garcia, Martin Kaymer et al but to name a few. (Click here for the full list of entries)
The tournament will be held at the Wentworth Golf Club in Surrey and has been since 1982 consecutively. It is the home and headquarters of the PGA European Tour and one of the most prestigious venues in world golf, let alone Britain. Standing at 7,308 yards, it is not a particularly long course but the par 72 track will test players in a variety of ways with the tight, tree-lined fairways being one.
Driving will be of great importance, because this is where you can find the positions to attack greens notorious for being difficult to read. Some may argue that the fairways are wider than most and in reality they are, but the second and third cuts are horrendously tough to play out of and if you are not straight, there will be no chance of posting a competitive score. Since course resident Ernie Els got involved, it has truly become a ‘thinkers’ track, one that requires previous course knowledge and a plotting of attack/defence strategy.
Before we reveal our fancies, it is important to note that this is the first chance for players inside the top 60 of the world rankings to guarantee their places at the US Open in June. Last years champion Matteo Manassero is 59th, George Coetzee 61st, Mikko Ilonen 64th, Pablo Larrazabal 65th and Bernd Wiesberger 66th. They will all be vying for their spots to get on a plane to Pinehurst…
Francesco Molinari (25/1 various)
We did have long and drawn out discussions about Luke Donald and Justin Rose for this week because undoubtedly they have great appeal and look good to go well. However, we just felt that 14s was slightly too low for us, but in a way they are understandable prices.
So, when we saw Francesco Molinari at 25s, we thought here is a player that has been playing some superb golf again, finding his groove and coming to a track that should suit him down to a tee.
The Italian has 3 top 10s in his last 6 starts and has been biding his time between the PGA and European Tour this season to great effect. T5 at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, 4th at the Volvo China Open followed by a superb effort at The Players, where he finished T6. They are not the easiest of tracks to be dealing with and this proves his quality on tough layouts where thinking is required more than standard brawn – just how Franny likes it.
He has also shown his liking for the course in recent years, with 2 top 10s in a row and we are certain the winner will have played a couple of rounds here at least, so why couldn’t the Italian get his first win since 2012 this week?
With his GIR he lies 57th in the rankings and 29th for driving accuracy and there is no reason why we wouldn’t see him challenging the ‘bigger’ boys come Sunday.
Jamie Donaldson (40/1 various)
A Welshman winning at the flagship English event? Wouldn’t Jamie Donaldson simply love to say that?! There is no reason why not because when you look at the sort of player he is and season is having, you have the perfect fit for Wentworth.
At 40/1, we felt there was cracking value to be had because he has already proven himself against the best with a hard fought T14 at Augusta and a T2 at the WGC Cadillac, which he really could have won. He has even decided to take a special exemption to play across the pond for the remainder of the season, which shows how his game has risen over the past year.
He will definitely enjoy his return back to British shores for a one-off weekender (well, weekend we hope!) and with his quality iron play he could be a real threat. Watching him at both The Masters and the WGC, when he is in full swing, his tee-to-green abilities are outstanding and if he finds himself in a decent position, he will attack flags, usually landing exactly where he wants the ball to.
He has recorded a couple of top 10s here in the past few years, so he knows how to play the course but his new found confidence combined with strong course knowledge could prove to be a winning formula.
Anders Hansen (50/1 various)
Anders Hansen has 3 European Tour wins in his career. 2 of them were here at Wentworth. To us that makes him interesting before delving deeper into what the Dane can offer this week! His victories came in 2007 and 2002, but even though they were a few years ago and he hasn’t found a top 10 since, he is coming into Thursday’s tee off with a bit of form behind him.
T5 at the Volvo China Open after an astonishing 63 final round propelled him up the leaderboard was followed by a T2 at the Laguna Championship in Singapore. He carded 4 rounds in the mid 60s and only finished 1 shot behind winner Felipe Aguilar, all of which will give him so much confidence coming onto a course he knows so well.
We have noted how important it is to have prior knowledge of Wentworth and Hansen can rival anyone when it comes to that. 23rd for GIR, 38th for driving accuracy and 60th for putts per GIR prove his versatility and credentials needed for here.
He is an accurate player and if his iron play is anything like it has been during the past couple of weeks, he could eclipse Luke Donald to a 3rd BMW title…
Danny Willett (80/1 Ladbrokes)
We can hear you all asking whether there will be an Englishman amongst our picks and fear not, Sir Danny Willett has taken the mantle of being our sole native to fight it out on the battlegrounds of Surrey. He is still in the early stages of his career at 26, but having already bagged a European title, his promise looks undeniable. (ironically he won another BMW event – the BMW International Open in Cologne 2012)
2014 has been a season of promise as well for the Englishman because barring a withdrawal at the Tshwane Open, he has consistently made cuts and found himself inside the top 43 every week. He has been challenging, but faded or started slowly and mounted a late surge only to falter at the last hurdle. It has been a season of almost there but no cigar. (compared to the constantly alight cigar of Miguel Angel Jimenez!)
The cause for optimism at Wentworth however is that he posted a T5 at the Malaysian Open a few weeks back and has finished in the same place round here before in 2010. There are genuinely few better iron specialists on the European circuit than Willet – T9 for GIR and if he can find that perfect balance tee to green and with the putter, he could be a real handful.
59th for driving accuracy and 82nd for putts per GIR add to his intrigue and at 80s, he is worth an outside punt.
Richie Ramsay (80/1 various)
We may not have multiple Englishman but we do have 3 Brits in our 5 and Richie Ramsay makes up for the final selection.
The Scot would probably love it even more than a Welshman to grab the trophy away from his neighbours and in Ramsay, we have a little gem.
The 30-year old has a very similar feel to Willett, both stats wise and form wise, especially when you consider he is an iron guru and if everything flows, he will keep making chances for himself. He suffered an ankle injury last year and didn’t make his first appearance till March, but he has started with an inconsistent flourish.
T11 at the Trophee Hassan, T2 at the NH Collection Open, followed by 3 average outings and then last week a T5 at the Open de Espana. There is no doubting how difficult it was last week with the conditions and course layout, so to finish that respectively is very impressive .
His putting was consistently inside the top 15 on all 4 days and his driving and GIR never dropped outside the top 25. He really looked to be in full motion again and that is dangerous coming onto a course that requires a sturdy level head and course know-how.
It will be his 6th appearance at Wentworth and although his first 4 outings were non-existent, a T9 last year proves he has the ability to post good scores here.
45th for GIR, 60th for driving accuracy and 22nd for putts per GIR is just another indicator that the Scot could really challenge the big boys this week.
Mentions for David Drysdale (300/1 various) and Jin Jeong (400/1 StanJames)
Just quick mentions for 2 outsiders, if you fancy having a tipple on the more outrageous. Firstly Scot David Drysdale is a really interesting proposition because he has played here 4 times, finished with a T19 last year and a T10 in 2012, whilst he will be coming into the week with a bit of form.
He hasn’t missed a cut in 7 tournaments and last week finished respectively T28 after a T8 at Laguna the week before. As a GIR and tee to green specialist, he could be worth a punt – T30 driving accuracy and T69 GIR.
Secondly, South Korean stalwart Jin Jeong is the epitome of iron guru. His swing is methodical and so consistent, that he loves finding greens on a regular basis. At only 24-years of age he has his whole career infront of him but considering he already bagged a European Tour title – the ISPS Handa Perth International, he knows how to play amongst the elite. Another interesting choice if you want more for your money!