THE West Course at Wentworth – it’s impossible to think of this classic parkland track and not think of the glory years of European golf. In fact most golf fans will associate the Surrey layout with the World Match Play in the autumn, when the leaves drifted down the tree-lined fairways that were bestrode by Ballesteros, Langer, Faldo, Lyle and Woosnam, the five legends who transformed the sport this side of the Atlantic.
Last year the BMW PGA Championship moved from spring to autumn, albeit earlier than this year, and it was a successful change, with the course in fine fettle and Danny Willett claiming triumph. Who will follow him onto the winner’s board at European Tour headquarters? Let’s take a look at three men with a strong chance.
Willett’s victory was far from the first for Englishmen in this event. In fact, he was the seventh home soil winner in the last 14 renewals and it’s often noted that there’s an element of inspiration involved in their prosperity because those players once attended Wentworth as young fans in awe of their heroes. Unsurprisingly, therefore, English players dominate the top of the betting.
The concern in backing them at short prices is that Tommy Fleetwood has started the final round in contention here only once in eight tries, Tyrrell Hatton is the same in six starts (and that was reliant on just the one very good round), Matt Fitzpatrick has never been in the top 20 after 54 holes and Justin Rose has six top 12 finishes but is still looking for a win. They’re all well capable of lifting the trophy, but at the prices there are too many doubts for me.
Instead I turn to European bogeyman Patrick Reed who, when last seen on the golf course, was tempting followers of this column by leading the U.S. Open through 45 holes and then experiencing a nightmare Saturday back nine. He didn’t land the bacon at Winged Foot, but I’m keeping faith with a quality performer who before that effort carded a 66 and a 65 at East Lake in the Tour Championship. His long game is a good fit for the course (he ranked seventh for Greens in Regulation on debut last year when tied fourth) and an excellent short game, which he has, is valuable here too. He’s pick of the favourites.
This will be the Irishman’s 11th visit to the West Course and in that time he has proved himself a real fan of the Harry Colt design, as well as the various re-designs and re-re-designs which have more recently plagued the layout. In all he has seven top 15 finishes from those ten appearances, four of them top six including fourth in 2011 and second in 2014. He’s ranked top three for hitting Greens in Regulation, Scrambling and Putting Average so all aspects of this game have proved themselves on the fairways and green that sneak between the houses of an estate that was once mostly occupied by Saturday night TV entertainers and is now more likely to be non-occupied by Russian oligarchs.
You might be concerned that he’s not cracked the top 30 since the start of August, but he’s very rarely been in any sort of form ahead of a visit to Wentworth and it’s never affected his efforts there. He suggested in an interview at the Irish Open that he might not be playing this week, but (assuming it was not an oversight on his part) he’s changed his mind and that’s likely because he’s remembered how well he plays here. Take the hint.
The 31-year-old South African is making a fourth start on the West Course and in ten laps there he’s proved himself well capable of going low. On debut in 2017 his first round 69 left him T14th, just three shots behind the early pace-setter, and his final round 65 was bettered only by an inspired Alex Noren. A year later he opened with a 66 which had him tied second on Thursday evening and his Sunday 67 was surpassed by only two men.
He’s been firing at pins again in recent weeks, thrashing a second-best-of-the-day 63 in round two of the English Championship and then claiming a three-way share of the first round lead in the Irish Open at Galgorm Castle two weeks ago. This market pays six places and in his European Tour career he would have landed a return 12 times, but importantly ten of them on tree-lined courses. Ranking second for Strokes Gained Putting this year he can generate another profitable fast start.