BMW PGA Championship Preview, Picks & Analysis
IT WAS in May last year that Francesco Molinari really announced himself as a world-class golfer when he saw off the challenge of Rory McIlroy to win the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth. The European Tour’s flagship event has been moved to September to avoid clashing with the US PGA Championship and Molinari returns to defend his title against a wonderful field.
FedEx Cup champion McIIroy will start the week as favourite but he is going to have to be at his very best if he is to win this title. It is second only to The Open Championship in terms of prestige in Europe and takes on an added significance this time as it is the first counting event towards the 2020 Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits. So you can bet your bottom dollar that Ian Poulter will be giving it his full attention. His Ryder Cup record is outstanding – in six appearances the Englishman has established himself as a European legend, forming a central part of winning teams on five of those occasions and most notably at Medinah in 2012 when he spearheaded one of the most remarkable comebacks in modern sporting times.
Poulter said: “I always get such incredible support when I return home to play on English soil, so I’m really looking forward to playing the BMW PGA Championship. The fact that it will be the first counting event for the 2020 Ryder Cup of course gives it some extra importance for me, as making it onto Padraig Harrington’s European team will once again be my biggest goal over the next 12 months. It’s shaping up to be a great week at Wentworth and hopefully I can play well and put myself into contention come Sunday.”
Poulter, Molinari and McIlroy will be joined by fellow Ryder Cup stars Tommy Fleetwood, Paul Casey, Tyrrell Hatton, Tommy Fleetwood, Alex Noren, Jon Rahm, Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson, and Open champion Shane Lowry will be making his first appearance on home soil since his incredible victory at Royal Portrush in July.
Lowry succeeded Molinari as Open champion and has a good record at Wentworth, having recorded four top 10 finishes over the West Course, including finishing runner up to McIlroy in 2014, the year the Northern Irishman claimed his own BMW PGA Championship and Open Championship double – a feat that was matched by Molinari last year.
The fact that Ryder Cup qualification starts here has not been missed by Lowry, who also won the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship in January. “The BMW PGA Championship is one of my favourite events,” said Lowry. “When I first played at Wentworth in 2010, I remember I couldn’t believe how big it was – it felt like playing a Major. I’ve had decent success there and I love the whole area. It’s a great place, the fans are very knowledgeable, we get to stay in nice places nearby. It’s one of my favourite weeks of the year, so to be able to go back there as Open Champion – my first time playing back in Europe – that is going to be unbelievable.
“It’s a golf course which I’ve always loved, before and after the changes they made. If I go there with my game in decent shape, I know I can perform at Wentworth and I feel like it’s a tournament I can do well in, so hopefully I can put in another good performance there this year.
“Wentworth is obviously the start of Ryder Cup qualification too and it’s been no secret that is now my main goal for the next 14 months or so. The fact that Padraig (Harrington) is captain, it would be very special to play under him because I’m very good friends with him. Hopefully I can play well, pick up some Ryder Cup points and give it a good run next year.”
Lowry, of course, has a comfortable lead in the Race to Dubai, but 10 tournaments remain in the 2018-19 schedule, with some serious prize money still to be played for. One of those who will believe he can catch Lowry is Fleewtood. The Englishman may not have won this year but his consistency has been quite remarkable. He hasn’t missed a cut on either the PGA or European Tour. Fleetwood was runner-up tp Lowry in The Open and has three other top-eight finishes to his name in Europe as well as 10 top-20 finishes on the PGA Tour. He has been frustrated by his inability to convert any of those performances into a victory but he will surely put that right before the season is over.
Casey has been on the winning team in three of his four Ryder Cup appearances and has lost only three of his 12 matches in golf’s greatest team event. He partnered debutant Hatton in Paris in the Friday and Saturday fourballs in Paris – beating Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler in the second of those. “I am delighted to be returning to the BMW PGA Championship,” said Casey. “Obviously Wentworth is one of my favourite golf courses and I have such fantastic memories there. I think it will have really benefitted from the change of date this year and the conditions might be some of the best we will have ever seen on the West Course.
“I really enjoyed playing last year after a few years away and playing in front of your home fans is always incredibly enjoyable. As Rolex Series event and now the start of the Ryder Cup points, this is one of the biggest weeks on the European Tour schedule, so hopefully I can bring my A-game.”
Hatton said: “I can’t wait to get back to Wentworth and back to competitive golf after a few weeks off. The BMW PGA Championship has always been one of the most important tournaments on the schedule for me, having regularly attended as a kid and dreamed of one day being part of it. Hopefully I’ll be feeling fresh next month and I can give the home fans something to cheer about.”
Americans Tony Finau, Billy Horschel and Patrick Reed are also in the field for what is the fourth Rolex Series event of 2019. Reed, the 2018 Masters champion, is an Honorary Life Member of the European Tour and finished runner up to Molinari in last year’s Race to Dubai. The three-time Ryder Cup player, who also won the 2014 WGC-Cadillac Championship, finished second in the 2018 DP World Tour Championship and was also a runner-up on the European Tour in the 2015 BMW Masters in China and he is relishing the prospect of teeing it up at Wentworth. “I always enjoy playing in Britain and the fans are always great, so it will be fun playing in the BMW PGA Championship for the first time,” he said. "Wentworth is an iconic venue and its one of the best tournaments on the European Tour, so I’m looking forward to it. It’s final event of a run three week run on the European Tour for me, so I’m hoping to get my first victory on European soil.”
Reed will be joined by Finau, who returns to Europe for the first time since finishing third in The Open, his best finish in a major to date jafter a tied fifth place at The Masters in April. Finau, who joined the European Tour as an affiliate member earlier this year, has continued his strong form from 2018 when he secured a runner-up finish in the WGC-HSBC Champions alongside three top-ten Major Championship finishes. The World Number 13 also made an impressive Ryder Cup debut as a Captain’s pick at Le Golf National, winning two points from his three matches, including a 6&4 victory over Fleetwood in the Singles.
It was won in 2011 and 2012 by Luke Donald, in 2013 by Matteo Manassero, in 2014 by McIlroy, in 2015 by Ben An, in 2016 by Chris Wood, in 2017 by Alex Noren and last year by Molinari.
Rory McIlroy. Who else?
Francesco Molinari. Will return with great memories
Thomas Pieters. In great form
Rory McIlroy. Looking for fourth win of 2019
Francesco Molinari. Aiming for big finish to the season
Thomas Pieters. Hugely impressive
Tommy Fleetwood. Still in search of elusive victory
Bernd Wiesberger. Playing like a man possessed
Ian Poulter, A man on a mission
Tony Finau. Hits the ball a mile
Paul Casey. Another who is playing some superb golf
Matthew Fitzpatrick. As steady as they come
Patrick Reed. Looking for a big finish to his stint in Europe
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