After another big-priced winner last week, Ben Coley provides his four selections for the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth.
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The BMW PGA Championship has rediscovered its mojo lately, helped in their own way by each of the last four winners. First we had Rory McIlroy, the biggest draw in European golf; then we were treated to a stunning rookie success for Byeong Hun An, followed by the latest in a long line of English winners, Chris Wood, before Sweden's Alex Noren brought the house down with a sensational final-round 62 to win the 2017 renewal.
Along the way, Wentworth has continued to adapt and judging by both the comments during last year's edition and the quality of the final leaderboard, Ernie Els and co have finally struck gold. The removal of 34 bunkers, flattening out of others and, crucially, relaying of greens which met universal approval has restored this famous course to the standards required of such an important event on the schedule.
McIlroy is back to head a fairly strong field, and his mixed bag at Wentworth (four missed cuts, four made; one win, just one further top-five) makes for a difficult decision for punters because with eight places on offer, a chunky each-way bet on the best player in the field is arguably the best approach.
Two wins and 10 further top-10 finishes in his last 15 European Tour starts demonstrate that he's always dangerous when returning from the United States, and when last playing golf in England McIlroy finished second, despite being out of sorts and struggling with injury, in the British Masters. Similarly, his last foray onto the European Tour saw him finish second, this time under his favourite conditions in Dubai.
Victory here in 2014 triggered the best summer of his career and he's returned to winning ways in stunning fashion this spring, taking the Arnold Palmer Invitational one week after a missed cut in the Valspar. Given his issues with Sawgrass, his failure to make the weekend there is of limited concern and prior to it there were good signs at Quail Hollow, while early on in the final round he looked like he was about to win the Masters.
In other words, McIlroy looks in good shape and with the changes made to Wentworth likely to suit and some reports that, despite a lovely spring, there's plenty of underfoot give, he's the man to beat and he's by no means a bad price.
That said the competition is strong and Noren, Tommy Fleetwood and Paul Casey all have undeniably sound claims but it's Branden Grace who looks the best each-way bet all things considered.
The South African was excellent in Texas last week, celebrating his 30th birthday with third place, and this new dad looks primed for a big summer.
His Wentworth record is without blemish and he struck the ball really well here last year, when controversy over a questionable drop in the first round might've affected his stalling performance thereafter as he wound up frustrated to finish ninth.
"I like hitting the low stinger with a driver around a lot of those holes where some of the other guys might hit three-woods and things like that," said Grace, and that comment conjures memories of his victory at Hilton Head - a course which has seen three-time Wentworth winner Luke Donald rack up an incredible sequence of runner-up finishes.
Grace's previous best this year came at the Valspar Championship, another tree-lined course where wind is a factor and again it's probably not insignificant that Donald, a specialist at this venue, is a former winner there, too.
Wins in Qatar, at the Alfred Dunhill links and Fancourt plus his performance in majors further supplement the idea that Grace is a fast-and-firm wind specialist and while some reports suggest that Wentworth may not be rock-hard underfoot, an ability to judge and cope with wind which swirls around the trees will remain a positive.
Five cuts made from five visits confirm that Grace is built for the course and the fact that he led the field in greens hit last year is encouraging, especially as he chipped and putted so well in last week's Byron Nelson.
There are no real negatives and his collection of eight European Tour wins put Grace at the front of the chasing pack when it comes to taking on McIlroy, who was close to selection but may ultimately have to make do with a top-10 finish at a course which still won't be perfect for him.
Shane Lowry has an enviable record at the West Course but hasn't contended anywhere for a long time and it's Irish compatriot Paul Dunne who looks the better bet.
Dunne made a more than satisfactory debut here last year when 30th and in the intervening 12 months has become a European Tour winner, his success having significantly arrived in the north of England at Close House.
That victory over McIlroy courtesy of a final-round 61 was real coming-of-age stuff and suggests that already, he should be targeting something like a Rolex Series event as the next step up a ladder which he hopes will lead to September's Ryder Cup.
Currently on the fringes of the side, Dunne will be eager to play his way in and Wentworth gives him the opportunity to do that, with points worth 50 per cent more from this week onward as Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn seeks to create an in-form line-up for Paris.
With four top-10 finishes in his last five solo starts, Dunne is certainly in-form at this moment in time and that sequence doesn't include his victory alongside friend and compatriot Gavin Moynihan in GolfSixes, meaning he's in fact been victorious on each of his last two starts in England.
Throw in an excellent record at Woburn, where three years in succession he topped an ultra-competitive 36-hole qualifier for the Open Championship, and playing in this part of the world suits him just as well as it should - a comment which helped make the case for Noren a year ago.
Dunne's short game can be a huge asset at Wentworth and having held off Rory at Close House and chased home Jon Rahm in Spain earlier this year, he is absolutely ready to beat a high-class field here in Europe.
The other obviously in-form player tucked in behind the top of the market is Andy Sullivan, but it's a long time since he won a title of any description and there appear to be better players at the same sort of price - the likes of Dunne, Tyrrell Hatton and Matthew Fitzpatrick.
With Hatton changing caddies and having struggled with his swing on his latest start in the United States, it's Fitzpatrick who earns my vote having marked our cards with a closing 66 here last year.
The 23-year-old doesn't have those memories of Wentworth which Hatton does, the latter having attended this event every year since the age of five, but he certainly should have the game for it given his accuracy off the tee, the brilliance of his long-iron play in particular and a putting stroke which is the envy of many on the circuit.
Like Dunne, he's a former winner of the British Masters, Fitzpatrick's success having come at Woburn, while his wider form ties in nicely with Noren given that both have won the European Masters at Crans and the Nordea Masters in Sweden, where an ability to deal with swirling winds and cool conditions can point towards success at Wentworth.
Four titles on the European Tour already tell you all you need to know about Fitzpatrick's quality and the one I've not mentioned came in the DP World Tour Championship, the high-class event which head honcho Keith Pelley said had taken over from this one as the circuit's flag bearer.
In terms of recent form, 38th in the Masters followed by 14th at the Heritage and 46th in the PLAYERS Championship reads perfectly well and the improvement in his iron play throughout these three starts certainly catches the eye.
Like Noren a year ago, returning to the UK having fared well on the more competitive PGA Tour should see a step forward in his finishing position and it's only two European Tour starts since he was third behind Fleetwood in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.
Fitzpatrick ended last year playing well week-in, week-out and some low-key form in the spring should be upgraded. It is arguably equal to what the likes of Dunne and Sullivan have been producing in lesser company and makes the Sheffield youngster well worth a bet on a golf course which is made for him.
I would never look to put anyone off taking a chance in a golf tournament - there might be over a hundred potential winners in this field and some will be priced as though they've next to no chance - but it seems significant to me that since the Rolex Series was created, it has produced exclusively high-class winners.
Fleetwood, Rahm, Rafa Cabrera Bello, Hatton, Justin Rose and Grace tell us that the search for this week's champion is probably rather narrow, which puts me off the likes of Soren Kjeldsen and Richie Ramsay who look to be among the more interesting outsiders.
Both were unfortunate in the Belgian Knockout, held at a course with aesthetic similarities to Wentworth, and while Kjeldsen's effort came out of the blue I can see him building on it when presented with a suitable challenge. Ramsay meanwhile is at his best on a tree-lined golf course where his ball-striking is a significant asset and that applies here despite the new and improved putting surfaces.
Thomas Pieters might suddenly find his best game after helping with such a successful first edition of the Belgian Knockout, where he played very nicely in the second round, but he's had to putt the absolute lights out for a pair of top-30s in this event and I wouldn't be sure he can keep that up.
Instead, I'll return to the home contingent. Although events like the British Masters and even GolfSixes mean that the European Tour is now a more regular visitor to England, this one still means most and they've long raised their game for it with Casey, Donald and Wood all among the recent winners.
Andrew Johnston has the game for the challenge and was considered, but he's not played since the Spanish Open and that worries me a little considering the niggles he's had down the years, while Eddie Pepperell's eye-catching performance in Sicily and earlier win in Qatar aren't quite enough despite a more than fair 100/1.
Instead, it's 2009 runner-up Ross Fisher who completes my staking plan.
Fisher, who grew up playing the course, would have more reasons than most to protest the myriad changes made by Els and co, but he was really taken with what he saw a year ago.
"I think it's probably the best it's ever been," he said. "I played with Keith Pelley a couple weeks ago, and I knew it was going to be good but I didn't realise it would be this good.
"I have to say, having been a junior here from '94 till I think 2009, 2010 I was a member here, and obviously 2009 was the last year before they changed it, I was a bit gutted because I finished second that year.
"I would say it's better now than when we used to play, especially when I played as a junior. It's just in great condition. It's a lot better aesthetically on the eye. It's just playing really well."
Fisher shot seven-under in the pro-am before going on to finish ninth in the main event, but he'll have felt he should've pushed Noren all the way. While Francesco Molinari destroyed the par-fives in 12-under and all those above Fisher played them in at least five shots better than par, Fisher was a frustrating one-under and that failure cost him a real chance to win.
Granted, he arrived in better form a year ago but he'd still missed the cut in the PLAYERS on his latest start, whereas this time he made the weekend at Sawgrass - the first time he's done so in five visits to the course.
Perhaps that's an indication that Fisher is back close to the form which saw him twice finish second in high-class events last year, both times to Hatton, with other form such as seventh in the Open de France and third in the WGC-Mexico confirming that he does rise to the challenge of taking on the best.
Fisher hasn't won for a while but three of his five European Tour titles have come in the UK and Ireland, including in the Volvo Match Play here at Wentworth, and at prices around the 66/1 mark the local man looks worth chancing.
Posted at 2020 BST on 21/05/18.