BMW PGA Championship Preview, Picks & Analysis
Post by Sports Writer Derek Clements
An all star-cast heads to Wentworth for the BMW PGA Championship, the European Tour's flagship event, and it may well be the course that takes centre stage. Ernie Els' original changes to the West Course came in for a great deal of criticism, which some players even vowing never to return. Henrik Stenson, Rory McIlroy and Ian Poulter were among the no-shows 12 months ago, and that is an unacceptable state of affairs for such a presitigious event.
McIlroy misses out again, this time with a recurrence of the rib injury that he aggravated during the Players Championship at Sawgrass. McIlroy's propensity to injury is starting to become a genuine concern. He has already missed a sizeable chunk of the season and arrived at The Masters seriously undercooked. It seems that the same will apply to the US Open.
Meanwhile back at Wentworth, the good news is that the players' views have been taken on board and further changes have taken place since they were last here. This time, however, the best players in Europe will be giving the thumbs up to the European Tour and the owners of the course. The main change has been to the greens, which had become patchy and routinely changed in character during the day, not helped by the fact that they featured two types of grass that grew at a different rate. Players going out early could count on the putting surfaces being fairly fast and true but for those going out in the afternoon it was a different story as they slowed down and seemed to show every single blemish.
The new putting surfaces are fantastic and everybody involved in the project is looking forward to hearing what the players think. And what a field it is. Chris Wood is back to defend his title and will be joined in Surrey by McIlroy, Stenson, Justin Rose, Tyrrell Hatton, Alex Noren, Tommy Fleetwood, Lee Westwood, Branden Grace, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Thomas Pieters, Ben An, Bernd Wiesberger, Danny Willett and Martin Kaymer. Oh yes, and fresh from his heroics at the Players Championship, a rejuvenated Poulter.
A total of 18 players in the world's top 50 will be in the field, which confirms that this is a BIG tournament. It was won in 2010 by Simon Khan, by Luke Donald in 2011 and 2012, Matteo Manassero in 2013, McIlroy in 2014, Ben An in 2015 and Wood last year.
Much has happened to Manassero since he won at the age of 20 and found himself climbing the world rankings at a frantic pace. That victory gave him a 10-year exemption on the European Tour, something that most people thought he would never have to call upon. His victory at Wentworth was his fourth, but everything has gone into reverse gear since then and he is now ranked 280th in the world - and the rankings don't lie. His nadir came in 2015, when he missed 16 cuts. The problems began for the Italian when he decided that he needed to hit the ball further, completely overlooking the fact that he had achieved such incredible success without being able to propel the ball 300-plus yards. To make matters worse, he lost his short game.
It has been a long road back to Manassero, but he is finally heading in the right direction once again. He enjoyed fourth top-20 finishes in 2016, including a tie for third at the Scottish Open and this season there has been just one missed cut and a third place at the Hero Indian Open.
There will be a huge amount of attention surrounding Poulter, a 12-time winner on the European Tour who missed most of last season due to a foot injury. He nearly lost his PGA Tour card but a loophole allowed him to retain it and he took full advantage by finishing second at the Players Championship, picking up a cheque for more than $1m for his considerable efforts.
The Englishman is looking forward to playing on home soil again, and is eager to see the changes carried out by Ernie Els Design and European Golf Design, working with an advisory group comprising Paul McGinley, Thomas Bjorn and David Jones, which acted on feedback from European Tour players.
He last played at Wentworth three years ago and has openly admitted he did not relish playing on the West Course’s old greens, so he is keen to see the impressive new putting surfaces which have been introduced on all 18 holes following extensive renovation work over the past 12 months.
“I’m looking forward to seeing the changes that have been made at Wentworth,” said Poulter. “Everything the guys – Thomas, Paul – have done to improve the course makes me want to jump back on a plane to the UK. It’s just what I need – the chance to come back to Britain and play some golf and enjoy it. It seems the changes they have made are what the West Course deserves and it is going back to its rightful self, so respect to the club, to the European Tour and to the guys involved for making those changes and I’m sure the players will enjoy playing it next week.”
“For me, to have played well last week and locked up everything in America has now freed my summer up and meant I can come back and play in some of the big events in Europe, which I’m really looking forward to,” said Poulter. “Everyone on the European Tour has been incredibly supportive and that has helped me be free and clear on what I needed to do in my own mind.
"I would have loved to have won last week, and it’s still a disappointment not to have got that win, but the result means I can come back over and play in the BMW PGA Championship, and plan my summer schedule, and it will obviously be great to play in front of the British fans again. My form is good – I don’t feel like I’ve got a lot out of my game over the last few weeks – but I’ve been working hard and hopefully the results will follow.”
Don't expect too much from Poulter – his best finish in this tournament is a tie for 10th back in 2012. But he will not be short of confidence, or support, and it is good to see him back.
So just who is going to win? You can be fairly confident that Austria's Bernd Weisberger will be there or thereabouts. The 31-year-old swings the golf club quite beautifully, and is arguably the most consistent performer on the European Tour. Since the end of 2015 he has missed just two cuts, at last season's Open and US PGA Championship. Last year he had eight top 10 finishes, including an astonishing run at the end of the season when he finished second, fifth, tied seventh, second, tied 35th, fourth and tied fourth.
That form has continued into 2017 and it came as no surprise when he won his fourth European Tour title at the Shenzen Open in April. He has not missed a cut this season and has a further three top four finishes to his credit. And yet his name is seldom mentioned when it comes to potential winners. Weisberger hits the ball a long way and if he can keep out of the trees at Wentworth he will take some beating.
Stenson could do with a decent week. The Open champion never looked like contending at Sawgrass. With the US Open just around the corner, the Swede will want to prove to himself and his fans that his game is ready to land him another major. And don't be surprised to see Alex Noren in contention. He has struggled to string four rounds together in America but will return to these shores confident that he has proved to himself that he can compete with the best in the game.
Hatton will also be hoping for big things. He enjoyed an incredible run of form on the PGA Tour earlier this year, where he looked like winning every time he teed the ball up. It is fair to say that he has gone off the boil in recent weeks, but that was to be expected. The challenge for the young Englishman is to get back on track, and there would be no better place to start.
I also have a feeling that Fleetwood could be in the mix coming down the stretch on Sunday. When you compare him with the likes of Weisberger and Stenson, both of whom are extremely tall men, Fleetwood is diminutive. According to the European Tour, he is actually 5ft 11in and weighs 12st, which were once regarded as the ideal height and weight to play top tournament golf. Fleetwood has taken his game to a new level in the past 12 months and led the Race to Dubai by a country mile until Sergio Garcia won The Masters. He is still snapping at Garcia's heels, and it would be no surprise to anybody within the game if he were to overtake the Spaniard as the year unfolds.
Fleetwood is still only 26. He is a beautiful ball striker who has overcome some putting woes and now believes that he truly belongs at this level. Self-confidence is a wonderful thing, and Fleetwood has it in abundance. He played well at Wentworth in 2016 and will love the changes.
Bernd Weisberger. The complete package
Tommy Fleetwood. Getting better all the time
Alex Noren. A fierce competitor
Bernd Weisberger. Mr Consistency
Tommy Fleetwood. Has his eyes on winning the Race to Dubai
Alex Noren. Now a genuinely world-class competitor
Tyrrell Hatton. Wants to do well in front of home fans
Henrik Stenson. Not quite at his best
Justin Rose. Will plot his way round with usual meticulous precision
Thomas Pieters. Just an amazing talent
Matthew Fitzpatrick. Proves you don't have to be a bomber
Ben An. Surprise winner in 2015, hugely impressive player
Alex Levy. Can win anywhere
What do you think? leave your comments below (Comments)
Tags: european tour
PLAY MORE PLAY BETTER - LATEST TUITION TIPS
Leave your comments belowcomments powered by Disqus
Latest Golf News
- Q-School Would Be Dramatic and Compelling Television
- Horsfield Leads the Way as 33 Players Earn European Tour Cards
- Winning Rookie of the Year is no Guarantee of Future Success
- Great History of the European Tour Order of Merit and Race to Dubai
- DP World Tour Championship Preview, Picks & Analysis