Matt Cooper

Across the Pond

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BMW PGA Championship preview

Monday, May 22, 2017


 
The Next Rung
 
Made his West Course debut 12 months ago, which is a handy reminder of how far he has come in such a short space of time. Played all four rounds on that first outing, but never broke 70 as he pegged T47. Was T3 heading into the final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational and T4 after 18 hole at the Masters, but arrives having missed the cut at The Heritage and THE PLAYERS.
 
The Scot was T17 and T11 in his 2017 openers in Hawaii (Tournament of Champions and Sony Open) but since then there has been little to cheer: he’s 3-for-9 with just one finish better than T39, a T11 at The Heritage, and he’s missed both his last two cuts. Nor was his course and tournament debut here much to write home about: 75-71 to skip the weekend.
 
It’s never quite happened for the Austrian at the Tour HQ. He’s 4-for-6 and owns two top 20s (T12 in 2013 and T15 last year), but he’s only once been inside the top ten at the end of any round, when T8 after an opening 68 five years ago. What’s without any doubt is that he’s a monster in regular European Tour events, In fact he’s been T7 or better in 10 of his last 12 such starts. Typically struggles more in better fields, as his record here suggests.
 
Back in 2011 Westwood and Luke Donald faced off in a play-off that had more than the tournament title wresting on it – the world number one ranking was up for grabs. Donald won, pinching top spot in the process. Since then Westwood has twice got into contention at the 54-hole stage but faltered both times: T2 in 2013 he ended the week T9, T3 last year he slumped to T15. Last seen shooting a smart opening 70 at THE PLAYERS before ending the week 75-76-75. A course winner, but in the 2000 HSBC World Match Play. 
 
Life can change very quickly. Twelve months ago he arrived at Wentworth as the new prince of European golf, a few months later he rewarded his caddie and friend Jonathan Smart with a spot playing the Dunhill Links; this week he is split with Smart and his form is in freefall. A Friday 78 saw him leave the Masters early, the same score on the same day ended his week at The Heritage, and a 79 preceded a WD at the end of Thursday at THE PLAYERS. T3 here last year but hard to overlook the recent form.
 
As a local with close connections to the Wentworth Club Fisher fits the bill of a possible winner and his log book on the layout backs that up – or at least it did. He led after 54 holes in 2007 before a final round 84, was second in 2009 and T10 in 2010. Since then he’s 2-for-6 with not one top 30. Four times T6 or better in his last four starts.
 
Has always been honest about his dislike of the condition of the West Course at this time of year so it will be interesting to hear his thoughts on the changes. What is also notable is that when his PGA Tour card was tied up he wasted no time turning to this event, you sense he really did feel he’d been treated well by the European Tour during a tough time in his career. 5-for-13 on the course with a best of T10 in 2012. T2 in THE PLAYERS.
 
Through his first ten starts in this tournament his record was stunning: eight times T25 or better, five times in the top three, back-to-back champion in 2011 and 2012. Both the last two years he has found himself T11 at halfway, but has been unable to maintain the pace, drifting to T38 and T27. Second at The Heritage – another favored track – he has since crashed to three consecutive missed cuts.
 
Another for whom the last 12 months have not been kind. An opening 69 here had him T10, ideally placed for a man who had been T2 in 2014 and had four course finishes of T6 or better, right? Well, a Friday 78 saw him miss the cut, a first hint that he was blowing hot and cold. On his next start a third round 65 in the US Open had him leading, but he followed with a final lap 76 and has never quite got over it. Not been in the top ten since.
 
Since winning this title in 2013 it has all gone wrong for the still youthful (24) Italian. But that was not the first time he contended on the West Course (led after 54 holes in 2011) and his form is coming together nicely. Tee to green solid for 18 months, putted well in Morocco, looked in a happy place at the GolfSixes, some good golf last week in Sicily, loves Wentworth. 
 
 
Sleeper Picks
 
It’s impossible to ignore a player who relishes contending for titles and arrives fresh from winning the China Open at the end of April. Missed last year but was T12 in 2014 and top 20 again through 36 holes in 2015 before drifting to T52.
 
This year’s Maybank Championship winner loves tree-lined, parkland venues and has a Wentworth record to prove it: eight starts, five top 25 finishes, T7 this time last year. 
 
When Valderrama regularly hosted the then end-of-season Volvo Masters there was quite a link between players who excelled there and also at Wentworth. Last year ‘Beef’ (a Valderrama winner) opened with 76 for T114 and reversed it to finish with a 67 for T7. First start of the year in Europe.
 
Soren Kjeldsen
Another who plays both Wentworth and Valderrama well, and has been on the PGA Tour so far this year. Career best tournament finish of third in 2009 and T18 two years ago. 
 
There is promise in his Wentworth record without it ever quite firing. T2 after 36 holes in debut in 2009 (T43), T7 in 2011, T8 after 18 holes in 2014. Likes tree-lined courses, T7 last week in Sicily.
 
A tough start to the season (1-for-6), but he was chipper about his Chinese results at the end of April on Twitter(T31-T18) and he loves the course: T21 in 2012, T8 in 2015 and T4 last year when he gave it a real go in the final round.
 
On a run of 11-for-12 cuts made and yet in that time not made one top ten. However he did win the GolfSixes earlier this month and it will be fascinating to see how it impacts on his individual results. Two MCs at Wentworth but plays tree-lined tracks well in general.
 
Pablo Larrazabal
His first four visits to the Tour HQ reaped T48-MC-MC-T65 and then something clicked because he’s since gone: T12-T7-MC-T12. Last three results read: T13-T11-3. Bound to be a popular pick this week.
 
The Korean youngster made a promising course debut 12 months ago, carding rounds of 72-73-73-70 to finish T33, a result that came after six weeks of tiring travel (Japan-China-Morocco-Mauritius-Ireland-England) which was also emotional (it included back-to-back wins). Off color since winning in Qatar, but did shoot a second round 66 last time out in China.
 
 
Who’s On The Team?
 
Francesco Molinari’s consistency, both on the course and recently, makes him a given for the official European Tour fantasy game.
 
The Olympic gold and silver medalists get my vote too – Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson.
 
Tommy Fleetwood’s tee-to-green game is a wonderful match for the course and he can match or better his T6 two years ago sooner or later – why not this year?
 
The rest of the team will be revealed in Tuesday’s Playing the Tips feature.
 
 
One To Swerve
 
Danny Willett continues to tailspin and I’m not keen to get back on board this week despite the two course top fives in the past.


12

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