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BMW PGA Championship preview

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This week marks the start of the European Tour’s flagship event, the BMW PGA Championship, held at Wentworth Club in Virginia Water, Surrey.

The BMW PGA Championship is currently the only event remaining on the European Tour schedule that is held annually in England, and whilst there are three events this year held in England, with the Open Championship being held at Hoylake, and the Volvo Match Play being held at the London Golf Club, it still remains one of the most popular events on tour.

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The strength of the field this week, highlights just how highly regarded this event is, with no fewer than 10 major champions making the journey to Wentworth this time around. Players like Rory McIlroy and Henrik Stenson boost any event, but in addition to those two, we will see two-time BMW PGA Championship winner, Luke Donald, Lee Westwood and recently crowned Players Championship winner, Martin Kaymer.

Wentworth Club, a 7,302 yard, Par 72 that will provide an real test for those that tee it up here this week, which will make for some great viewing. We have seen in the past, especially recently with Matteo Manassero and Luke Donald winning the last three editions, that you don’t need to be the longest hitter on tour to win here, and that playing smart, accurate golf can prevail here. Course form could well be important, as the test of this course can become all the more difficult if the wind gets up, and those with experience at Wentworth will know how to deal with such conditions.

British players, unsurprisingly excel here, and for four years in a row, between 2009-2012, every winner was English. Paul Casey won in 2009, Simon Khan in 2010 and then Luke Donald won back-to-back in 2011 and 2012, after finishing runner-up to Khan in 2010. It’s always good to keep a home player onside, but there’s no reason why others cannot win.

South African Ernie Els, who won at Wentworth six times, albeit in match-play format, played a major part of the redesign of this course, and although he’s never won the BMW PGA Championship, he will always be familiar with the course, and as a result will have a wealth of experience to lean on, and pass on to his fellow compatriots. This may be a tedious link, but four other South African’s who are in the field this week have finished inside the top-10 in this event over the years. Charl Schwartzel, Darren Fichardt, Retief Goosen and Thomas Aiken, all good players in their own right have all finished in the top-10 here, and whether they have taken advice from Els or not, it seems that South African players do enjoy this layout.

In the field this week, we have two mutiple winners of the BMW PGA Championship, as the aforementioned Luke Donald makes the trip back from America, along with the in-form Dane, Anders Hansen. Both players are looking for their third victory at Wentworth, and they will fancy their chances, as both have shown signs of winning in recent weeks. Donald finished one shot shy of Matt Kuchar at the RBC Heritage  two starts ago, and Hansen was beat by one shot, by Felipe Aguilar who holed out on the last for a birdie, eagle finish at The Championship at Laguna National three weeks ago.

I picked the winner at this event last season, as Matteo Manassero emerged victorious, in a three-way play-off with England’s Simon Khan, and Scotland’s Marc Warren, and I am hoping for a repeat this year too.

I am going to the event on both the Saturday and the Sunday, so I may add a bet in-play if I spot someone hitting it well, and potentially challenging. For now though here are my picks for the 2014 BMW PGA Championship.

Miguel Angel Jimenez 33/1 (General) 1.5pts e/w: A man who surely needs no introduction, so I’ll just get right into why I fancy his chances this week.

Jimenez, who capped off a great month or so, with a win last week at his national open, comes into this week with the best form of anybody in the field and returns to a course he loves.

Between 2004-2008 Jimenez finished 8th,  56th, 3rd, 5th and 1st, in an incredible run, and although he missed his first cut here in 2010, and followed it up with another missed cut in 2011, I am pretty sure Jimenez will go well again this week.

Those missed cuts in 2010 and 2011 may well have been due to the course changes, made by Ernie Els and he wouldn’t have been alone in not liking these adjustments. Since the course reverted back to somewhat normal in 2012 he has made the cut twice, finishing 39th and 4th and once again looks comfortable with the layout.

We all know he’s capable of anything, he has broken his own record three times now, as the oldest winner on the European Tour, and if he would surely have to miss a bundle of cuts between now and decision time for the Ryder Cup picks, to not be in the team at Gleneagles. I am sure he celebrated yesterday’s victory with an abundance of cigars and red wine, but this should not affect his chances this week (it never normally does!).

If he can carry over the form which has seen him finish 4th at the Masters, win on his Champions Tour debut, and win the Open de Espana in this last month, then I see no reason why he cannot at the very least contend here at Wentworth. Despite his laid-back fashion, Jimenez will know that every week will be important, and with good Race to Dubai money and Ryder Cup points on offer here this week, he should have no problem motivating himself.

At 33/1 you are betting on the in-form player on Tour at the moment, despite his age and with a wealth of course experience he has to be one of the most solid bets this week.

Matteo Manassero 66/1 (SportingBet & StanJames) 1.5pts e/w: Despite Manassero splitting his time on both the European and PGA Tour this season, you will see that he has only missed three cuts all year, once on the European Tour (Dubai Desert Classic), once on the PGA Tour (Shell Houston Open) and at the Masters, a course he should never be expected to excel at.

He has already had two top-12 finishes on the PGA Tour, finishing 8th at the Valspar Championship, and 12th at the Honda Classic, and has been steady on the European Tour without really contending, so he’s hardly out of form this year.

He would have liked to of finished better than T28 last week in the Open de Espana, in preparation for this week, but he should always be confident around this course.

In four starts in the BMW PGA Championship, the young Italian had finished, 17th, 7th and 43rd before sealing his fourth European Tour title in as many years in 2013.  He was very impressive en-route to his victory here, when fending off Marc Warren and Simon Khan in a three-way play-off , and I have no reason to believe that he won’t go well again this time around.

This course is a perfect fit for Manassero, as length off the tee is not an issue, which his the only real “weakness” in his game. He will continue to find more power off the tee, but for now he is more than capable of winning events with his current skill-set and I am sure he will relish playing at this course again.

His current statistics suggest that he’s not playing as well as he can, and I am sure he is aware of that, but this course has proved a happy stomping ground for him, so if he’s going to return to anywhere near his best any time soon, this could well be the week.

He was 66/1 last year when I picked him, and I am happy to take a chance of him repeating that success once again, at the same price. It’s always difficult to defend a title, but despite still being just 21 years of age, he is proven winner and I have no doubts he can produce the goods when it matters.

Tommy Fleetwood 100/1 (General) 1pt e/w: As aforementioned, British and in particular, English players have a very good record in this event, for obvious reasons and whilst Tommy Fleetwood may not seem the most likely Englishman to prosper, given that the likes of Donald, Lee Westwood and Justin Rose are in the field, but he’s been in great form recently, and has progressive form at Wentworth.

Until his missed cut last week, in the Open de Espana, where a lot of players struggled, Fleetwood has been in magnificent form, finishing 8th and 2nd in his two starts prior to last week and I can see him playing well again this week.

In two starts at the BMW PGA Championship, Fleetwood is 2/2 in making the cut, and improved on his 49th place finish on debut in 2012, coming 24th here last year. He is a player who has steadily improved on Tour, in the last year and since getting his first win at the Johnnie Walker Championship in August last year he has finished in the top-5 on three occasions, and the top-10 a further two times.

With the win under his belt, he should come into this week with more confidence than he has in his last two visits, and should come in with the belief that he can win, whilst rubbing shoulders with the European Tour’s finest.

I am sure Fleetwood has Ryder Cup aspirations, not only because it’s an aspiration for almost any professional golfer, but also because it is being hosted by Gleneagles this year, the scene of his first European Tour victory. If he is to have any chance of making that European team in September, he is going to have to perform well on the biggest of stages, and this is a great place to start.

A win here would be the next step in his career, as it is the Tour’s flagship event, and then the next level in his natural progression would be performing well in majors, and making the field in WGC events. He is definitely a player with that potential, and at 23 he has plenty of time on his side.

At 100/1 I think he is definitely fairly priced, and it could possibly be a slight overreaction to his missed cut in Spain last weekend. Whilst I am very aware this is a big tournament, and it will take some winning, Fleetwood should take confidence from last year’s winner, Matteo Manassero, who proved you can win this event at a young age. Manassero was 20 last year when he won here, and whilst he had one extra look at this course than Fleetwood would have done, I see no reason why Fleetwood can’t follow in his footsteps.

Gregory Bourdy 100/1  (General) 1pt e/w: It may be obvious I am a fan of Bourdy, as I have tipped him multiple times in the last year, and it was this event last year, where he really caught my eye.

I was following him for a few holes on Sunday last year, as he was playing with Ernie Els, and was very impressed by his iron play. He was hitting some great approaches, and didn’t seem phased at all by playing with the multiple major winner, and the big following that came with that.

Since this time last year, the Frenchman has played some great golf, most notably at the Wales Open, which he won last September. As well as that win, Bourdy managed to make every cut in every tournament he played in, up until last week at the Open de Espana. That was fifteen straight cuts made, despite suffering an injury, and having a lay-off between November and February.

Whilst he doesn’t always contend, he is clearly very solid and his game should be tailored for this course. He hits more than his fair share of fairways and greens, and if he can get hot with the putter he could definitely be up there come Sunday, as he was last year. His 68 on the last day was his best round of the week, and in the end he finished T12 and just four shots off of a play-off. He started the week slowly, opening with rounds of 71 and 73 and if he is a bit quicker off the mark this week he may just feature.

Bourdy is 4th in Driving Accuracy and 6th in Greens in regulation, which is perfect for this event. As I said, his game looks tailor-made for this event, and should he improve on his putting he should be able to add another win on British soil. He’s missed more cuts than he’s made at this event, but his 12th last year, coupled with good current form is enough for me to back him.

Four consecutive top-20s before his missed cut last week, including an 8th place finish suggests he may be a little overpriced at 100/1 and I for one am very happy with that price.

Richie Ramsay 100/1 (SpreadEx) 1pt e/w: When I saw Ramsay available at 100/1 I admittedly went back and double checked his course form at Wentworth, expecting it to be dreadful. So when I saw that he finished 9th here in 2013, I decided I had to pull the trigger on the in-form Scot.

Ramsay made his first competitive start on the European Tour for the first time since November, when he teed it up at the Trophee Hassan II in March, and he finished an impressive T11. Not only is the Trophee Hassan known as a tough event, around a tricky course, but to finish that highly after three months away from competitive golf due to a ligament injury he suffered after a fall, is very, very impressive.

He went on to finish runner-up at the NH Collection Open in Spain, miss two cuts and finish 32nd in his next four events, before finishing in the top-5 once again, at the Open de Espana last week. This further confirmed that he fighting fit and ready to challenge once again, a little closer to home.

Not only is he in good form, but he is a naturally talented golfer, and when in-form can rank among the top players on the European Tour. Ramsay became the first British player since 1911 to win the much coveted U.S Amateur, when he won it back in 2006. Matt Fitzpatrick added to the list of British winners last year, but apart from that it has unsurprisingly been dominated by American’s, so it was an incredible achievement at the time.

He doesn’t rank highly in either Driving Accuracy or Greens in Regulation, but he’s not poor in either category and therefore I am sure he can deal with this course once again. His 66 in round 3 was tied for the best round all week, and matched only by James Kingston in round 1, and Simon Khan in round 4, so he should have no problems shooting a low score round here once again.

Due to his run of form since returning from injury, and his 9th place finish last year, Ramsay looks a good bet at 100/1 and I just hope he can continue impressing and doesn’t suffer an injury setback any time soon. He has only made the weekend twice here, in five starts which is why he’s a good price, but I am happy to take a chance considering his best finish here is in his recent memory.

Total points staked on the European Tour this week: 12

Profit/Loss for 2014: +79.91

It’s no secret that this is one of my favourite events of the year, mainly as I get to attend most years and this time will be no different. I will look to go back-to-back, as I managed to pick Manassero last season and I am confident with the picks above that I can do that. There is some great value this week, thanks to the strength of the field, and with 6 places the prices looks very generous.

Any feedback or questions are as welcome as ever on Twitter @TJacobsGolf.