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BMW PGA Championship Tips: Six selections for Wentworth

BMW PGA Championship Tips: Alex Noren features.
BMW PGA Championship Tips: Alex Noren features.

A remarkable couple of weeks on the European Tour, as Denmark’s Nicolai Hojgaard won the Italian Open, a week after identical twin brother, Rasmus, won the European Masters. Both were supremely talented amateurs, now both European Tour winners and are going to be a real force on the tour over the coming years.

Now time for the European Tour’s flagship event, as we visit the iconic Wentworth Golf Club in Virginia Water, Surrey for the BMW PGA Championship. A relationship between course and tournament going back to 1972, though permanently since 1984.

The West Course at Wentworth is a par 72 measuring 7267 yards. Originally designed by renowned architect, Harry Colt in 1926, it has undergone extensive renovations over the last 12 years at the hands of multiple major winner, Ernie Els. Most notably the par 5 18th finishing hole, where a stream was installed in front of the green, which has created much drama over the years.

That is part of a unique finish around this course, as the 18th is preceded by another par 5 at 17. It sets up for real swings towards the end of the round. There’s a further two par 5s, one on the front 9 and another on the back 9, taking it to 3 of the best chances of scoring coming down that closing stretch. 

Though we’ve seen winning scores exceeding -16 in each of the last three years, this is by no means an easy course. Some really tough driving holes throughout due to relatively tight fairways, clever fairway bunkering and tricky doglegs. All these fairways hugged by thick rough and trees on both sides. The greens are small, undulating and protected by run off areas throughout, meaning every part of the tee-to-green game is important and it seems the case that accuracy is a bigger weapon than power around this classic course.

Ryder Cup odds

With small greens and big run off areas, it’s no surprise that scrambling has been hugely important  here. Both Hatton in 2020 and Molinari in 2018 ranked 1st in scrambling when winning. Willet in 2019 and Noren in 2017 also ranking highly in this statistic and it’s a huge feature amongst the performances of many who assemble at the top of the leaderboard.

It was wet and windy when Hatton trounced the field by 4 shots last year and though there’s currently little forecast in the way of wind, we are expected to get rain before and during the first couple of rounds of the event, which should make the course receptive to begin. Having said that, the course firmed up over the weekend last year, with the help of the sub-air system and with dry, warm conditions expected over the weekend, the greens should firm up for the final round, if indeed they are softened with rain at the start.

A strong field for this prestigious event. Viktor Hovland and Billy Horschel both travel over after very good performances in last week’s Tour Championship on the PGA Tour. Along with a typically strong English contingent, as well as a surprise appearance for Australia’s Adam Scott, the first time he’s played here since 2006.

BMW PGA Championship Tips

Golf betting tips
Alex Noren each-way (8 places)
Odds correct as of 2021-09-06 18:35 Odds subject to change.

Viktor Hovland heads the market at 9/1, which is too short for me. Followed next by Tyrrell Hatton at 14/1 and Shane Lowry at 16/1. Both with as good a chance as anyone but enough of a concern over their form with the putter to steer me away from them at such prices. Matthew Fitzpatrick and Tommy Fleetwood come next, both with good records here but with the former not in the greatest form and Fleetwood’s long game still looking a little unconvincing, I start this week’s selection with former winner, Sweden’s Alex Noren.

It’s been a solid year for Noren on the PGA Tour, one which has seen him miss just 5 cuts and finish top 25 in 9 of his 19 starts, but his form has improved from merely solid to excellent in recent months. 

The signs were there in his 21st place finish at the Byron Nelson in May, well in contention before a final round 74 did for his chances. He continued to play solid in his next couple of starts but then put up his best performance of the year when finishing 4th at the Rocket Mortgage Classic at the start of July.

A couple of MC’s followed but he’s bounced back in elite company in his last three starts. 16th at the Olympics was followed by top 10s in the first two FedExCup play-off events. First finishing 4th at The Northern Trust in New Jersey before then finishing 9th on his last start, two weeks ago in the BMW Championship.

His results have largely been down to his excellent short game. 13th on the PGA Tour in putting, 27th around the greens and 53rd in scrambling. Though the long game hasn’t been at its best, he’s played well in that respect in his last three starts, if not putting it together at the same time. He gained both in approach and off-the-tee at the Olympics, following that with a good iron performance in The Northern Trust and then a good driving performance at the BMW Championship.

As mentioned, he’s a past winner here, picking up the title in 2017 and has a generally excellent record at Wentworth. He’s only missed the cut twice and has recorded three other top 10s to go with that victory, most notably finishing 3rd in 2018, the year after he won.

He has a better level of recent form than just about anyone else in this field. Combined with his excellent record here and his quality short game, which is typically important for this week, can pick up his first title since winning the 2018 Open de France. A victory that would also see him claim a coveted spot on Team Europe for the Ryder Cup.

Christiaan Bezuidenhout each-way (8 places)
Odds correct as of 2021-09-06 18:35 Odds subject to change.

Next up is the first of two South Africans, Christiaan Bezuidenhout. A player no doubt buoyed from securing his PGA Tour card at the Korn Ferry Tour finals on Sunday and as proved in 2019, when he finished 3rd on debut here at Wentworth, can transfer that positive feeling into another good performance at this event.

That 3rd place finish in 2019 was not surprising considering the book of form he put up that year. A winner at Valderrama, which though a much tougher test than Wentworth has plenty of similarities. Later that year, the week preceding his 3rd here at Wentworth, he finished 12th at the European Masters at Crans, a course which typically compares well to this venue. The likes of Danny Willett and headline pick Alex Noren having form at the two events, winning both.

Little in the way of stats for this year as he’s spent his time not really playing much on either tour but we know what his game is all about. He’s a rock solid ball-striker but typically excels on and around the greens. Shown by him ranking 3rd in putting and 5th around-the-greens on tour last year. This was on show in his 3rd place finish on the Korn Ferry Tour last week, where he led the field in scrambling. 

He finished 40th here last year with a solid performance to follow up that quality 3rd in 2019. Possessing a game perfect for the course and hopefully carrying over a bunch of confidence from securing his tour card, he looks set for a big week.

Bernd Wiesberger each-way (8 places)
Odds correct as of 2021-09-06 18:35 Odds subject to change.

It made tough viewing two weeks ago, when Bernd Wiesberger hit his approach to the 18th hole at the European Masters into the water, thus handing the title to Rasmus Hojgaard and missing out on a spot at the Ryder Cup. Though he has a chance to put that right this week with a top 3 finish gaining him a spot on the team at Whistling Straits and without a doubt has a game good enough to do so.

2021 has been another strong year for the Austrian on the European Tour. One which has seen him become an 8-time winner on the tour, picking up that 8th title in the Made in Himmerland tournament a few months ago in Denmark.

A really solid all rounder. He hits the ball well, ranking 6th in approach play and 38th off-the-tee. Backing this up with a solid short game, where he ranks 21st around-the-greens and 93rd in putting.

He holds a solid record at Wentworth. Having missed just two cuts in nine tries and has finished in the top 20 on three occasions. Whilst that 2nd place finish in the European Masters was no doubt disappointing, it adds further encouragement to his potential to contend around here, as I’ve already mentioned it as a good comp course. 

He’s in good form and is a prolific European Tour winner. I doubt there’ll be many who’ll begrudge him picking up this title and a Ryder Cup spot in the process, redeeming himself for the ending to the European Masters.

Justin Harding each-way (8 places)
Odds correct as of 2021-09-06 18:35 Odds subject to change.

With two missed cuts here in two starts, Justin Harding doesn’t immediately jump out but everything about his game points to a player who can go well this week.

Of those two missed cuts, he struggled a little on his first try in 2019, but only missed the cut by three. Last year was a different story, as he opened with a 6-under 66, to sit in the joint lead at the end of day one, showing his potential at the course. Before an inexplicably poor second round of 81 caused him to miss the cut, once again by three.

There’s little in the way of real weaknesses to his game. He’s straight off the tee and a solid approach player. 11th in scrambling, 24th around-the-green and 59th in putting show the strength of his short game. This all contributes to him being 16th in par 5 scoring, which is significant around here, as well as 29th in birdie average and 19th in bogey avoidance.

Despite his missed cuts here, he has a 3rd place at Valderrama, mentioned as a positive for Bezuidenhout and the win at Kenya earlier in the year offers up further promise as to his ability to perform around here, another similarly tree-lined course.

With 2nd and 7th place finishes in his last four starts, he’s clearly in good form and if that opening 66 last year is anything to go by, he’s ready to put those missed cuts in the event behind him and finally go well at this flagship event.

John Catlin each-way (8 places)
Odds correct as of 2021-09-06 18:40 Odds subject to change.

A couple of longshots to finish and I found it impossible to leave off the first of them at three-figures. 

It was on this day last year that John Catlin picked up his first European Title at the aforementioned Valderrama. Twelve months later and Catlin is now a three-time European Tour winner, with wins in Ireland and Austria adding to that win in Spain. 

There’s no doubt he hit a bit of a flat spot after the win in Austria back in April. He followed that victory with five missed cuts in his next eight starts but has responded well in recent weeks. With five made cuts in a row, including three top 25s, the best a 7th place finish in the ISPS Handa World Invitational.

Catlin’s tee-to-green game is amongst the best around. He ranks 3rd on tour in that respect thanks to being excellent in each of the three T2G categories, ranking 19th around-the-greens, 20th in approach and 25th off-the-tee. He also ranks amongst the most accurate players on the tour, sitting 8th in driving accuracy and another who ranks high in par 5 scoring, currently 21st for the season.

There’s no doubt where the weakness come for Catlin, 176th in putting means he’s amongst the worst putters on tour but the quality of his tee-to-green game means he doesn’t need to putt the lights out to contend.

As a straight hitting, quality iron player, who’s good around-the-greens, he’s the perfect match for Wentworth Golf Club’s West Course and if he can find just a solid week with the putter, he’s capable of adding to that already impressive European Tour title tally he’s built up over the last 12 months.

Jamie Donaldson each-way (8 places)
Odds correct as of 2021-09-06 18:50 Odds subject to change.

Back in 2018 it really looked like we may have seen the last of Jamie Donaldson contending on the European Tour. He missed 10 cuts from 20, finishing no better than 32nd. However, he’s bounced back excellently the last couple of years and has looked a player capable of winning again at this level.

Just 4 missed cuts in 16 this year, he’s recorded 3 top 25s and put up his best performance of the year 3 starts ago with a 3rd place finish in the Cazoo Classic.

His game is very much one of accurate ball-striking and quality on and around the greens. He ranks 31st in driving accuracy and 53rd in greens in regulation, this enables him to excel with the short game. Where he ranks 28th in scrambling, 30th in putting and 36th around-the-greens. 

A par 5 scoring ranking of 28th is impressive considering he’s not the longest of hitters and he’s also excellent at keeping bogeys off his card, ranking 23rd in bogey avoidance. 

He hasn’t played here since 2018, where he recorded his third straight missed cut on the bounce in the event. Though he had a solid record before 2016, playing 12 times prior, with just 3 missed cuts and top 10s in 2005 and 2011.

Currently playing better golf than he has for a few years and with a game that suits the course, Donaldson can use his experience to make a run at picking up a long awaited first title since 2015.

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