It's been a hugely profitable year on the European Tour for Ben Coley, who now looks at the circuit's flagship event - the BMW PGA Championship.
On Saturday night at the Scottish Open, the usually amiable Robert Rock declined to speak with the media. Presumably, he felt as many did - that play ought to have been suspended, fairways such as the 18th now two parts water to one part grass. As he made his way for a hot bath - you can be sure, Robert Rock likes a hot bath - Tommy Fleetwood, drenched from head to toe, beamed in front of the Sky Sports superscreen, or whatever it is they call it.
"I loved every minute of it," he said, with meaning. "The money we play for these days... a day like that doesn't do any harm, it's fine. I'll play in it every day." It was but the latest example of one of the sport's best attitudes from one of its best and most likeable players. And it bodes well for his redemption bid. One day later, Fleetwood missed a short putt to extend the play-off, having also missed one at the 16th in regulation, and the title was Aaron Rai's.
That's back-to-back European Tour events which Fleetwood would have won with a little collaboration from his putter. Instead, his form figures read 3-2, and if he's to stick a 1 on them, he'll have to practice what he preaches and show a little perspective. Personally I've no doubt he can do it, and he need not look far for inspiration. Had Rai not blown a golden opportunity to win in Northern Ireland, would he have won a better title a week later? I doubt it.
And so Fleetwood will start the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth as the man to beat. There isn't a course on earth which isn't vulnerable to his ball-striking, not the way he hit it in Scotland or Portugal, but the Burma Road is best attacked that way. If anyone is to do what Francesco Molinari did here and metronome them into a dazed acceptance, it is surely his close friend. With Molinari making his return in Las Vegas, it would be timed to perfection.
It's important to battle such romantic vulnerabilities when taking a clear-eyed view of the market, and Fleetwood is the fair favourite, but not one who screams value at the same price as in Scotland. Not now Patrick Reed, Justin Rose and Tyrrell Hatton have been brought in to add further layers of depth to the best event played in Europe since... well, the same one last year.
Instead, it's SHANE LOWRY who stands out a mile and, with a gulp, I think he's about the best bet since golf returned in June.
Lowry is a course specialist, first and foremost, and that's a fine starting point. Wentworth takes a little knowing, for all the remodelling which has been done over the last decade. Lowry says he liked it before, just as he liked it after the first set, and the second set of changes. Those bunkers which were removed prior to 2018 have changed nothing, and whatever they do to this famous piece of land, he'll relish returning here.
Look at recent champions, and they share much in common. Since Ben An produced a remarkable display to win this as a rookie in 2015, every winner has been experienced, used to winning on the European Tour, and with previous contending experience here to call upon. Chris Wood had been the 54-hole leader on debut and fourth the year before; Alex Noren had been in the thick of it at various points; Danny Willett's profile was almost identical to Wood's. Molinari's credentials were all the more obvious: in three of the five years prior to winning, he'd led at halfway.
That tells us how useful it can be to be aware of your surroundings here in Surrey, to be able to judge the wind which swirls among the trees. Before An, Rory McIlroy won on his seventh visit, and before him, Matteo Manasseo was another to have held the lead through 54 holes here but failed to convert. It's a startlingly strong trend which even takes in shock 2010 winner Simon Khan, who had also played here six times previously, and also gone close.
Back to Lowry, and there's nobody in this field with a better record here. We can say that anecdotally, through recalling when McIlroy picked his pocket and the various other occasions on which he's threatened, and we can say it statistically: his is the best scoring average, adjusted for conditions or left alone, of all who've played at least three of the last five editions. It remains the best if you look for those who've played three of the last 10.
"I love it here," he reiterated in 2019, when making his first start in the UK since that famous Open win. "I think this is one of my favourite events in the world. Every time I come here, you know, just the area itself around Wentworth, Ascot, Sunningdale, it's just a lovely place to be.
"The golf course, I've always really liked, even when it used to get a lot of bad press before. Even when they made the changes first back in 2010, I actually really liked it and I just thought it was quite a difficult golf course and I just loved it. But yeah, look, like I said, it's one of my favourite events of the year and I just love coming back."
I put up Lowry last year, not overly concerned by the media attention which included accepting lifetime European Tour membership. In the end he finished 11th, perhaps evidence that those early-week commitments compromised his preparation. On the other hand, I recall watching almost every shot he played over the first two rounds, and rarely will he have got less out of good play.
Sunday's 66 made sure he signed off on a high and enhanced what's a serious record at the course, the only blemish a second-round 78 back in 2016 which saw him miss the cut despite opening with a solid 69. All told, he's been here 10 times before, made nine cuts, bagged seven top-15 finishes, and hit the frame for each-way punters three times. Crucially, he's getting better: four of those top-15s have come over the last five years.
There are, as hopefully demonstrated, all kinds of positives - and you can even extend them to the weather forecast, which is pretty miserable for the first three rounds. Lowry famously won the Irish Open in his waterproofs and he did the same in last summer's Open Championship, so there are no concerns on that score.
The price - bigger than last year, when McIlroy, Jon Rahm, Paul Casey, Henrik Stenson and Viktor Hovland made for an exceptional renewal - is explained by a missed cut when sent off favourite back home in the Irish Open last time. And yet it's a performance I drew a line through immediately.
First and foremost, Lowry had sounded the alarm bell a week earlier, cutting a tired and frustrated figure at the US Open. It seemed clear he'd had just about enough of being in the US and was ready for home having been away from his daughter for two months. When asked about the Irish Open, he essentially told reporters he didn't want to think about it, hinting that he didn't want to be playing. Perhaps that's why he arrived late and went on to miss the cut.
It's the minor details of that missed cut which confirm its irrelevance. Believe it or not, Lowry produced his best ball-striking figures since the Dubai Desert Classic (11th in a quality field and bad weather), which were in turn his best since he followed 11th place here last September with 15th in the Dunhill Links.
That's significant because firstly, putting isn't to be dwelt upon - he'd putted really nicely in the US Open, before what were the worst-recorded figures of his career at Galgorm Castle. Secondly, it tells us his long-game is in really good shape, and that the new clubs that went into the bag at the Safeway Open four weeks ago haven't taken long to bed in.
Nothing is certain in this sport, but whatever happens with Lowry come Sunday - or indeed should he miss the cut on Friday - he will have been worth backing at this price. It looks a fabulous bit of business.
There are times when it feels the right move to pursue a particular avenue to its end, and this feels like one of them when it comes to assessing the front of the betting. Hence Thomas Detry is overlooked at a tempting 50/1 - he's better than that and will show it soon enough - and Erik van Rooyen is left out. The latter has finishes of 20th and 14th here, in other words some solid course form, but as yet he hasn't threatened the top of the leaderboard. At 22/1, that's the determining factor.
In contrast, THOMAS PIETERS has done better at this tree-lined layout than you might expect, and he's taken to bounce back from last week's missed cut and confirm he's one of the best players on the circuit.
Four wins on the European Tour perhaps don't feel like enough given his talent, and one of the best techniques on the circuit, but they confirm Pieters is good at getting the job done when he does find himself in contention. At some stage he'll do in a Rolex Series event what he's done in majors and WGCs and be right there on Sunday, and I fancy this could be the week.
Pieters might have missed the cut at The Renaissance, but he was one of those caught on the wrong side of the draw. Of course, Aaron Rai did fabulously well to overcome what amounted to around a four-stroke handicap, but it's nevertheless easy to give the benefit of the doubt to those who found life tough under cold, wet and windy conditions as the tournament began.
Here at Wentworth, Pieters took a couple of looks to get his eye in before an encouraging 27th behind Wood, and then a year later was the halfway leader in the renewal won by Noren. No doubt evidence to some of his misgivings, Pieters shot himself out of contention with a third-round 78, but bounced back with a Sunday 69.
That experience counts for plenty and he's come a long way since last year's share of 37th, when he ranked third in approaches and tee-to-green, but 56th in putting. Put another way, he hit the ball well enough to contend again, and it may well be significant that this quality ball-striking display came at this time of year (versus previous spring renewals) and subsequent to the removal of more bunkers in his range prior to the 2018 edition.
We saw Jon Rahm take second last year and Lucas Bjerregaard finish third in 2018, and with rain around both now and during the tournament, there's a suspicion Wentworth may play longer than usual. That, his previous contending experience, stacks of quality play since last he played here, the arrival of a daughter and everything else positive about his game and mindset, helps put this massive talent towards the top of the list.
Martin Kaymer and Matt Fitzpatrick are others who were caught in the worst of it in Scotland, and each is tempting. The former is left out because he's played 46 rounds here and only once ended one of them inside the top-five; never has he been especially close to the lead at a meaningful time. Perhaps Wentworth in its various guides just doesn't suit him quite like Valderrama and The Belfry so obviously did.
Fitzpatrick is harder to leave out, and it's taken a good deal of effort to do so. He's been in my staking plan in each of the last two renewals, and I like his game for this - accurate off the tee, brilliant with mid-to-long irons, and with arguably the most reliable putting stroke in the tournament. I think he'll go very close to winning this more than once. The trouble is his form is patchy, however you spin it, and at 18/1 I can't see that much of an allowance has been made.
Instead, I'll take ROBERT MACINTYRE to defy a lack of course experience having only made his debut in the event last year when, as a rookie, he started well.
An opening 69 saw the Scot end day one in 14th and he gradually faded to 28th, but that's enough to suggest the course ought to suit him - especially as he was the best player in the field when it comes to strokes-gained approach.
Form at correlating venues underlines my belief this will be ideal for him and I thought he marked our cards last week, fighting back from a slow start to finish 14th in a slightly less dramatic repeat of his week at Valderrama.
"I want it (winning tournaments) to happen now, and I've got a great chance with these next couple of weeks," he said in Scotland, when asked to explain why he's dispensed with his long-time caddie for the experience of Mikey Thompson. "Thankfully my game is looking pretty good just now, so who knows."
I really like what MacIntyre said about getting as much as he can out of a fickle sport, and he was making the sort of positive noises which were missing when he declared that there was much to work on at the US Open. Late to return to action and having been injured at the start of the year, he looks poised to go on a run over the coming weeks.
That effort at The Renaissance was his best driving and approach play since the restart, not far off the levels he produced when second in the European Open last year before coming here, and we've seen in Turkey, Italy, the Nedbank, Dubai and The Open that he's a big-game player.
Those latter two efforts came in foul weather and he's also been runner-up in Denmark and at Hillside when the wind has played its part. Ultimately, persistent rain is not welcomed by anyone, but he'll cope better than most and at the same price as last week, with a better performance now tucked away and a valuable first four rounds with his new caddie, he can go close.
Christiaan Bezuidenhout was an excellent third on his debut at Wentworth, and it was only a poor week with the putter which saw him miss the cut in Scotland. He's respected along with compatriots Branden Grace (exceptional course form) and Justin Harding (correlating form and might like it here), but next on my list is ALEX BJORK.
It's perhaps asking too much for a one-time European Tour winner to step up and win a Rolex Series event, but it did happen last week and Bjork has been hinting all summer that he's right back to his best.
We saw him sign off with sixth in the spring and he was third at the Forest of Arden not long after the restart, with his sole missed cut in seven events coming at the Wales Open. Otherwise he's been very solid, and what I really like is the consistency and quality of his iron play: he's ranked seventh, 10th and eighth in strokes-gained approach over the last three events.
That was the staple of Bjork's early success, which included a debut 14th here, and with the putter generally behaving and the catastrophic driving of 2019 now firmly in the past, he has put the pieces in place to go well at a course suited to his game.
Even throughout a difficult spell, he did enough to rank 23rd in bogey avoidance last season - MacIntyre was 12th, Pieters 34th and Lowry 28th. That's a handy pointer given that four of the last five winners ranked first, second or third for the week, with the other ninth - Wentworth is the sort of place where everyone will find a spot of bother at some stage, and how you escape it may prove essential.
Cool conditions ought to bring out the best in the Swede, who can follow not just Noren but the lesser known Rikard Karlberg in contending here.
I had hoped to put up Shubhankar Sharma only for his price to tumble following another step forward in Scotland, so the final vote goes to a player who likely has a lot more success in front of him - ADRI ARNAUS.
This quality Spaniard is best known for his long driving and it's that which will power his career. Indeed, it almost saw him get off the mark in Prague last summer, only for Pieters to respond to each and every punch.
Still, like Pieters, Arnaus actually has a wealth of form at tighter, shorter venues, having been fourth at Club de Campo, sixth at Crans, second at Valderrama and in Kenya throughout what was an excellent rookie season which saw him make the DP World Tour Championship.
His progress has been halted by circumstances beyond his control but I really like where he's going, and the fact that he defied nasty conditions to finish third in Dubai earlier this year is a further piece of encouragement when it comes to potentially battling the elements here.
He did so nicely last week, recovering from a first-round 75 to shoot 66 on Friday and 67 on Saturday, and before that he signed off with a fabulous 65 at Galgorm Castle to suggest he's about to start threatening the top of leaderboards.
His approach play in both Northern Ireland and Scotland was among the best in the field, and with rain set to soften up Wentworth I think the power advantage he possesses off the tee could be hugely beneficial. Indeed, strong driving plays a part in the case for all selections bar Bjork, who does his best work thereafter.
To be truthful, I would rather be backing him at a shorter price in a lesser event, but Arnaus won the season-ending Challenge Tour Grand Final, and I don't think he's one to shirk the issue should he do as An did and take to this course at the first time of asking.
At the price, given the signs he's shown lately, that's a chance worth taking.
Posted at 1945 BST on 05/10/20
More golf previews...
- Ben Coley on the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open
- Matt Cooper on the KPMG Women's LPGA Championship
We are committed in our support of responsible gambling. Recommended bets are advised to over-18s and we strongly encourage readers to wager only what they can afford to lose.
If you are concerned about your gambling, please call the National Gambling Helpline on 0808 8020 133, or visit begambleaware.org.