Ben Coley's red-hot run continued with a 33/1 winner and places at 80/1 and 125/1 last week. Get his five selections for the BMW PGA Championship.
3pts e.w. Viktor Hovland at 22/1 (General 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)
2pts e.w. Tommy Fleetwood at 33/1 (bet365 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)
1.5pts e.w. Thomas Pieters at 50/1 (bet365 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)
1pt e.w. Robert MacIntyre at 80/1 (Unibet 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7)
1pt e.w. Victor Perez at 100/1 (General 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)
Cameron Smith's Open Championship victory almost qualifies, because we all knew what was coming, but so far the awkward spectacle of a LIV golfer winning a non-LIV event isn't something we've had to face. This week, in the BMW PGA Championship, the prospect feels uncomfortably real. Six of the top 16 in the betting come from the dark side (it's my column so there!) and among them are players with either proven Wentworth form, or games suited to its demands.
The DP World Tour needed players to go into bat and it's therefore a fine time for Rory McIlroy and Jon Rahm to return to its flagship event. McIlroy last played it in 2019, a top-10 finish despite an opening 76 demonstrating how much has to go wrong to keep him away from the leaders back on his home circuit. Rahm was runner-up that week and has won six of just 19 appearances in non-majors over here, proving hugely profitable to follow blind.
With both players priced below 10/1, US Open champion Matt Fitzpatrick not far behind and course specialist Shane Lowry half the price he was in 2020, the very top of the market is dominated by European Ryder Cup stars who've played key parts in the biggest events this year. For now, and long may it remain, the real strength lies in those who have chosen a path which will lead back to the Ryder Cup in just over a year's time, rather than to a courtroom.
If reading all that leaves you weary then try actually typing it. I'd rather not have to. But this schism colours and threatens the sport as we know it, and it's impossible to escape in a way that's not been true on the PGA Tour. Its stance is clear – play LIV and you're out – but the DP World Tour has had to settle for lesser sanctions and for now has its hands tied. Rumour has it that a group of players have written a letter to the rebels to make clear they're not wanted. It's a sentiment which had already compelled Martin Kaymer to withdraw.
And it's partly why I can't bring myself to back any of them this week. Abraham Ancer has a nice profile for the course, and Bernd Wiesberger has fallen a heck of a long way in the betting versus the early months of the year. Laurie Canter was runner-up here on debut and Sam Horsfield has twice contended. All of them would have to make the shortlist, but a determined home team should win this particular battle.
The attack is spearheaded by McIlroy and Rahm, but I'm pleasantly surprised to be able to take 22/1 about VIKTOR HOVLAND and he looks a fantastic option for each-way punters.
When the Norwegian won the Dubai Desert Classic he did so from a point bigger than McIlroy yet now we're getting almost four-times the odds, a reflection of the fact he's undeniably been below his best for patches of the summer.
Still, he was right alongside McIlroy in the final group of the Open Championship, since which he's finished 20th, 35th and 15th across the three FedEx Cup Playoff events. It's solid form that looks stronger when viewed alongside that of all bar the front two and I like the fact his approach play has been good for four tournaments in five now, having slumped through June.
More will be needed from the driver, the one club which has dipped notably since he went 4-1-MC-4-2-9 in a blistering start to the year, but that's not too big of a concern. The West Course at Wentworth doesn't call for too many of them for starters, and the fact he hit the ball so well off the tee here last September offers hope that he might find something for a return to familiar surroundings when he does have to reach for it.
Although he could only manage 49th place on what was his second start in this event, Hovland can be excused: he'd flown directly in from the TOUR Championship, whereas this time he's had a fortnight off to prepare. He had been 11th on debut in 2019, just months into his professional career and again straight off a plane, at a time when he was yet to win.
Since then he's collected six titles and, as we so often see from PGA Tour members, he's been very dangerous when coming back to Europe. So far he's not quite managed Rahm's one-in-three return, but two wins in 10 DP World Tour starts as a pro tell us plenty, and both Dubai and the BMW International Open actually correlate well with Wentworth.
Of course, his continued issues when chipping and pitching are always a concern and he does have one or two questions to answer, but we're talking about a bona fide class act here and 22/1 to win in Europe seems to underestimate not just his potential, but the player he is today.
At his best this course would be dreamland for the youngster and having beaten Rory to the title in Dubai, he might just do it again in Surrey.
Lowry just looks a little skinny and Fitzpatrick hasn't been playing well enough to support at 12/1, so my eye was drawn to Adam Scott at more than twice that price. He was in the mix throughout the tournament last year, has played nicely of late, might revel in the fact he's standing firm (for now) and keeping his Presidents Cup promise, and is generally a factor when leaving the United States.
However, he did reveal that this course makes him a little uncomfortable and has been relying on the putter just a little too much for comfort, so after some deliberation I'm going to side with TOMMY FLEETWOOD.
Form-wise, there's plenty to like. Fleetwood was fourth in the Scottish Open, improving as the week went on, and did something similar to cut through the field and take fourth in the Open a week later. OK, his comfort levels on links turf played their part but he was also 10th in the European Open and fifth in the US PGA, making it four top-10 finishes in six.
He also has a few things in common with several Wentworth champions, not least that he's English. Time and again we've seen players from the home team raise their games in what had been a rare chance to play in front of home fans, and while we've more UK events on the schedule now, players like Fleetwood are seldom able to take part in them.
More importantly, he's contended for this title before, and that's something almost every champion here has in common. Billy Horschel bagged a top-five in 2019, Tyrrell Hatton had been in the final group before his win and so had Danny Willett. Francesco Molinari had led at halfway no fewer than three times, Chris Wood was the 54-hole leader on debut, and even the youngest winner in its history, Matteo Manassero, had found time to lead through three rounds.
Fleetwood hasn't quite gone that far but he was fourth heading into the final round in 2015 and filled the same position at the same stage in 2020, which means that twice he's been out in the final few groups. It's not only experience which will come in handy, but it's evidence that while his course record is modest on the face of it, he's played a heck of a lot of good golf here down the years.
Slowish starts cost him in each of the last two renewals, as well as that poor final round two years ago, but he returns with his game in a good place once more and with the right tools to join contemporaries like Hatton, Willett and Wood, and add another high-class English name to the roll-of-honour.
The negative is that he's not been seen since the Open, and that's because his mother passed away soon after. I won't speculate just how that might affect him here because I frankly have no idea and this is only a golf tournament. However I will say that if anyone is going to win after almost two months off, it might well be a player who has twice won the first event of the year after similar absences.
Those victories in Abu Dhabi plus one in Paris and another in South Africa mark Fleetwood down as the man for a Rolex Series title and providing he isn't too rusty when play begins, I can very well see him securing an emotional and long-awaited breakthrough here at Wentworth.
Next is THOMAS PIETERS, playing some of the best golf of his career at 30 and one who will be keen to do his bit for the DP World Tour cause.
Pieters once made headlines when his mentor Nicolas Colsaerts said he didn't much care for Americans, around the time of his scintillating Ryder Cup debut. Although unwelcome at the time, there was a kernel of truth to the statement and Pieters seems happy to pursue a career which is Europe-based and against the grain.
It's going well, as he's now a six-time winner at this level together with his 2018 World Cup victory alongside Thomas Detry, and there's absolutely no doubt that his finest hour so far came this year when beating a world-class field to the title in Abu Dhabi.
But for some misfortune in Germany he'd have won again since and having made the cut in the last three majors, finishing 27th and 28th in the most recent two, he's reached a level of consistency which bodes well for the future. Barring mishaps, he really should be a key player for Europe in next year's Ryder Cup, where hopefully we'll see a reprisal of his partnership with McIlroy.
In the more immediate future, he might not scream Wentworth winner on the face of it, but his record here is plenty encouraging and with signs of better yet to come. Pieters was 27th on his third go in 2016, then 14th a year later when holding the halfway lead, and after a fallow run which aligned with a general downturn in his performance levels, he carded two 66s for ninth place last September.
That was before he went on to win for the first time in two years and I'm of the view he's matured enough as a player to pick apart a course like this. Indeed, I'd say he would've struggled to win at a firm and windy Yas Links in the past, his success having come on courses with far less subtlety to them, but nowadays there's nowhere he can't handle.
Eighth last time out in a rain-shortened Czech Masters and without a missed cut since April, Pieters arrives in good nick and it might be telling that his top-10 finish here came in spite of his tee shots, rather than because of them. Perhaps that tells us he struggles off the tee at Wentworth but more likely is there's scope for him to bully it a little in the way Rahm did when runner-up to Willett.
Regardless, with his putting improved leaps and bounds we're talking about something close to the complete package, and the opportunity to back him at 50/1 can't be passed up.
It seems as good a time as any to explain the absence of speculative darts in the staking plan, given that I tweeted how many of them made my shortlist. That's because I cannot escape the fact that this tournament just keeps getting won by a class act.
Byeong Hun An would be the only surprise of any note since Simon Khan in 2010 and it's very hard to see someone breaking their duck here as An did, or producing something way beyond that which they've produced before.
I'll list some of the names omitted for that reason later on but first, ROBERT MACINTYRE can confirm himself a big-game player by going close.
MacIntyre's major record now shows a perfect 10 cuts made from as many starts and perhaps it's not all that surprising that he's been a tad disappointing as a big fish in a small pond, instead out-running his odds in elite company such as when 15th at Riviera back in February.
Backing him at north of 50/1 when a few big names are in town therefore makes some sense and especially so after his best ball-striking display in memory last week, when he was 12th in Denmark having putted poorly. MacIntyre was still very much in the mix during the final round before four-putting the par-five fifth hole, but he rallied nicely enough in the end.
Seventh in strokes-gained approach, that was the best he's hit his irons since leading the same category here in 2019, albeit those latter numbers are imprecise to say the least. Back then, data was unreliable so we can't say for sure he was even the best iron player in the field, and he certainly didn't gain three shots a day with his approach shots.
That said, he did show plenty of promise in finishing 28th and while he's failed to build on that, both subsequent visits have included a sub-70 round. In other words he looks like he can do some damage here and he certainly has a nice correlating form line from seventh place in Turkey, where Hatton took the title. Wood and An both went close at the same course a few years earlier and lesser lights JB Hansen, Shubhankar Sharma and Jamie Donaldson further tie the two venues.
Back to MacIntyre and I can't stress enough how well he hit it in Denmark, his irons catching up with a driver which had been very good since the Open. The only problem area was the putter, but a bad fortnight is easy to excuse given that it's been a good year with that club.
When the Scot won in Cyprus two years ago, his approach play had been excellent a week earlier and there's a decent chance history repeats itself here. Yes, he's been frustrating to follow in 2022 but his best performances of 2021 came in the Open and in the DP World Tour Championship, again underlining that he's a player made for the big occasion.
Having been a vocal critic of LIV Golf despite the fact he's only just turned 26, MacIntyre might just take another step forward and win the big title his popularity and reputation demand.
And so to the outsiders and their respective merits. Antoine Rozner's long game has been utterly outstanding the last twice and there was a little more promise in his putting in Switzerland, but it did eventually cost him the title. He's got to find a fix if he's going to capitalise on tee-to-green play which has been of the highest standard, and lacks experience here.
That's also a nagging concerns for Rasmus Hojgaard, whose form figures at Wentworth read MC-MC. That said, he was grouped with Ryder Cup vice captains Henrik Stenson and Luke Donald last year in what was the final event before wild cards were selected. Perhaps that explains an opening 81 from which he recovered nicely enough, and he's some talent to be going off at three-figure prices just about anywhere.
The aforementioned Sharma has been the best iron player across the last three editions of this and hit the ball better last week. He's got plenty of form at tree-lined courses and got the better of Willett among others when winning in Malaysia, while he contended with Wentworth nearly-man Kiradech Aphibarnrat in Mexico. Prices around the 300/1 mark place him on the radar, too.
And then there's Marcus Kinhult, 10th and 12th here from four visits, driving the ball well and generally looking like he's got his career back on track. This talented Swede lost a play-off for a Rolex Series event in 2019 and his sole win so far came in the British Masters at the expense of some quality operators. Perhaps he'll be the one we live to regret.
But I do want some genuine pedigree where possible, even at huge odds, so we'll overlook those plus Masahiro Kawamura to back VICTOR PEREZ.
Perez was runner-up here in 2020 to further underline that Turkish link, having been part of the play-off there a year earlier. Last year's 49th was obviously a step backwards but it was solely down to an opening 76, which he followed with a 10-shot improvement to make the cut on the number.
The only other player who shot 75 or worse on day one but was still around to play the weekend was in fact Rozner so it was a huge effort which only really served to underline the fact that Wentworth is a good fit for one of the best ball-strikers on the DP World Tour.
Since then he's properly re-established himself and secured a second title courtesy of that thrilling and improbable Dutch Open success, and he could so easily have gone in again a week later. Yes, he's been quiet since, but three of his six subsequent starts have been at a very high level and in two of the last three he's been back driving the ball superbly.
That's what Perez does when he's at his best and we can completely overlook a missed cut in the Alps, where his record now reads MC-50-MC. It was just a few weeks after Switzerland that he won the Dunhill Links in 2019 and in 2021 he followed it with a top-20 finish in Italy, so Crans itself has proven to be a misleading guide to the overall state of his game.
The fact he hit the ball well there means I'm inclined to think he's not at all far away and with seven of his eight rounds here par or better, this former Ryder Cup hopeful can make a strong start to his bid to make the side in Italy.
It's too soon for Andy Sullivan to harbour such ambitions, but they'll be required at some stage if his recent ball-striking improvements marry up with his short-game and he too made the long list of tempting outsiders.
This proven winner again flattered to deceive at Crans but before that played really well at Celtic Manor, as he had when eighth at Hillside. That's top-10 finishes in Wales and England and another is perfectly possible if he hits the ball as well as he did last week in Denmark, where he led the field in strokes-gained approach.
Rather than representing a flash in the pan, that was simply another step forward for a player who has turned a corner this summer. Five starts running how he's hit the ball really well and it's not like he's a lost cause on the greens, either, despite ranking 71st of 73 players at HimmerLand.
Sullivan had putted perfectly well in two of his previous four starts and did so when third here in 2020, when finally things came together at Wentworth. All told he's made seven of nine cuts and six of those seven have seen him finish in the top 35, but it was only two years ago that he produced a proper charge to finish close behind Hatton.
That performance came courtesy of a superb long-game, bettered only by Jordan Smith, and Sullivan is back hitting the ball to those kind of levels. The trouble is I find it hard to see him being ready to win this and with early 250/1 quotes having halved, that makes the decision straightforward. Ish.
Sporting Life have partnered with Talking Snooker for their latest podcast episode - an interview with Neil Robertson. Hear why he's keen on some changes to the World Championship and its fabled venue, the Crucible, in a wide-ranging interview with a modern-day snooker legend.
Posted at 2005 BST on 05/09/22
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