The 2012 European Tour heads to Wentworth this week for flagship tournament, the BMW PGA Championship.
Bet on the BMW PGA Championship at Betfair
In existence since 1972, the event moved to its now permanent home of Wentworth in 1984. Opened in 1926 and designed by Harry Colt, the West Course, also referred to as Burma Road, has undergone a series of alterations in recent years, under the supervision of Ernie Els, and the tinkering continued in 2012.
All the greens were remodelled in 2009/10 but the biggest change of all came on the par five 18th hole. At the mercy to modern equipment, the old 18th was an almost given birdie and a great eagle chance but now, with a dirty great stream snaking its way in front of the green, it's a stunning risk/reward finishing hole.
Poor Ernie had to put up with a lot of criticism in 2010 when players first met with the new design and in truth, it didn't quite work. Most players attempting to find the green in two found the water and the vast majority decided to play it as a three-shot hole. The landing area has been extended and flattened out this year and the green has also been rebuilt (as has the 8th green). Hopefully those tweaks will make all the difference because the hole has the potential to be one of the best finishing holes in the game and we may see a few more go for it in two this time around.
They've also changed the 12th hole back to a par five and I'm pretty sure that will be a change welcomed by just about all. Always a fairly easy birdie/eagle chance, provided you got your drive away, it was changed to a par four in 2010 and for the last two events it's just been a brute.
Course form stands up quite well and it often pays to follow those that have shown a liking to the place already. It's a tricky, tree-lined track where the wind can play havoc. Down in the trees it's very hard to gauge the strength and direction of the breeze and some players just never seem to take to the place. The likes of Graeme McDowell and Ian Poulter for example, always seem to struggle here.
Last year's winner, Luke Donald, can again return to the top of the world rankings if he successfully defends the title. Having finished runner-up to Khan in 2010, it's quite clear that the course changes suit Luke and I'm not going to put anyone off backing him. He's a bit too short for me but his chance is strong and of the front three, he looks the best value.
Second best, Lee Westwood, is still putting deplorably and third favourite, Rory McIlroy, hasn't really shone at Wentworth yet.
The more I looked at this event the harder it got! I'd have backed Luke at a double-figure price and I'll look to get him onside in-running. And in addition to Luke, I also liked Justin Rose, Ben Curtis and Matteo Manassero but I felt they were all too short too.
It's a really tricky event and I couldn't say I fancy anyone strongly at all but I've still picked out plenty of players to get the ball rolling, though I must stress, stakes have been kept to a minimum and I'll get stuck in properly at halfway. I don't mind chancing plenty at big odds to start with though, as there have been plenty of big-priced winners here and small stakes on plentiful picks could be the way to go.
My first pick is the man responsible for all the changes and a man desperate to win this event. Ernie Els used to live on the course and he knows it intimately, he's won the Volvo World Match Play here an incredible seven times and he's in very good form. He's had three top-five finishes in his last seven events in the States and he's traded at odds-on in two of them! Could this finally be the year he nails the PGA?
Robert Karlsson stunned everyone two years ago when from the cut line he shot himself into contention with an amazing Saturday 62. He flopped on the Sunday and missed the event last year but I thought he looked in decent form at last week's Volvo World Match Play and I fancied 80.0 was fair.
I've a feeling 2008 winner, Miguel Angel Jimenez, could finally be in decline but he may just have one last hoorah in him and why not here? And I've a soft spot for another Spaniard, Alvaro Quiros, who must have spent the last few dayss kicking himself after the World Match Play, where he looked in good form before throwing his quarter-final away to Rafael Cabrera-Bello. This track should be too tricky and tight for the likeable Spaniard but he was right in it last year at halfway before dropping away and he also finished 16th in 2009.
Paul Casey came back too soon from his snowboarding accident and he had to withdraw from the Players Championship and last week's Match Play event (replaced by Karlsson) so I'm a little surprised he's even made the line-up. It's risky in the extreme but at 130.0 I'm prepared to give him a chance.
Retief Goosen had been woefully out of form since flopping in the final group at the Transitions Championship in March but he was the only player to get the better of last week's winner, Nicolas Colsaerts, beating him 1 Up in the round-robin stage. He also beat Charl Schwartzel 4 & 2 and readily disposed of the out of form Robert Rock before succumbing to Paul Lawrie. He's not one to trust nowadays but he has a bit of Wentworth form and 160.0 is too big, as it was about recent winners Berndt Wiesberger and Thorbjorn Olesen.
And finally, it's a leap of faith maybe, but I fancy the Golf du Palais Royal, venue for the Trophee Hassan II, could be a similar track to Wentworth. Both are tree-lined and wind affected and I've taken a small chance on the last two winners there, Michael Hoey and David Horsey, at huge odds.