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Monday, 19 November, 2018

English giant may end up looking down on the rest once again

Wondrous Wood to retain Wentworth title

Chris Wood kisses the BMW PGA Championship trophy following last year's triumph at Wentworth
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Play starts 7am Thursday
Live on Sky Sports from 10am Thursday

Palmer's top tip
Chris Wood 35-1

Few courses in the world have been subject to as much tinkering in the last decade or so as the famous West at Wentworth, but the latest redesign may have provided a layout to satisfy everyone.

The original track had become too easy for the European Tour's finest, then the remodelled one was too difficult, turning the BMW PGA Championship into a war of attrition. Changes made in the last 12 months have got the balance right, and the much maligned greens are finally worthy of staging this flagship event.

The bunkers are less penal, the greens are pure as silk and the weather is forecast to be fair for all four days of competition, so the PGA competitors will have no excuses for not treating the bumper crowds to plenty of birdies.

Given the quality of the greens and the need for low scoring, this seems a week to follow the best putters, and Chris Wood appears to have a golden chance of a successful title defence.

Wood was one of the first to tackle the new West Course when it reopened at the start of this month, and was greatly impressed by the alterations. Typically you would expect a reigning champion to want the course he tamed to be left well alone, but Wood is aware that the revamped Wentworth may suit him even more.

Wood is a superb putter who seems to raise his game when performing close to home. The giant Bristolian was fourth in the 2015 PGA before his 2016 triumph, and he has twice contended in the Open Championship. He was sixth in the 2010 PGA, fifth in the 2009 European Open in Kent, third in the 2010 Irish Open and fourth in the 2015 Dunhill Links.

The English have dominated the PGA in recent years, with five of the last eight stagings producing a home winner, and Wood is well equipped to further bolster the statistic. He has made an accomplished Ryder Cup debut since his Wentworth glory and finished fourth after a slow start in the China Open a month ago.

Next best
Paul Dunne 100-1

The staking plan is exclusively made up of players from the UK and Ireland this week. Only two of the last eight PGA winners have been from further afield, and Wentworth's large and supportive crowds have been a significant factor.

Paul Dunne has proved himself on this type of course by winning the Open Championship Final Qualifying event at Woburn the last three years. There are similarities between Woburn and Wentworth, and Dunne could make a barnstorming PGA debut.

The Irishman made a name for himself when leading the Open as an amateur going into the final round at St Andrews in 2015, and he has slowly but surely become a European Tour title contender since.

A fast-finishing sixth place in the Tshwane Open in March was encouraging, then he came desperately close to a breakthrough victory in the Hassan Trophy in the middle of last month.

Some late Edoardo Molinari heroics denied Dunne in the Hassan – the Italian won a playoff – but it will probably not be long before the Dublin-born 24-year-old creates another opportunity. Dunne possesses the short-game skill to go low at the firm and fast Wentworth.

Other selections
Tommy Fleetwood 33-1
Luke Donald 55-1
Marc Warren 160-1

Although four of this week's five selections are top-class putters, room must be made in the staking plan for Tommy Fleetwood. Such has been the majesty of Fleetwood's ball-striking this year, his putting weakness can be overcome. If he is regularly firing approaches to tap-in range, flat-stick issues are quickly forgotten.

Fleetwood has had his ball on the proverbial string for the best part of eight months, relentlessly churning out greens in regulation, winning the Abu Dhabi Championship in January and twice finishing runner-up (WGC-Mexico Championship and Shenzhen International).

Like Wood, Fleetwood enjoys competing in Britain. The Southport lad won his maiden European Tour title in Scotland (Johnnie Walker Championship), he has placed three times in the Dunhill Links, he was second in the 2014 Wales Open, sixth at Wentworth in 2015, and fourth in the British Masters last year.

Complete your attack with a third Englishman and a sweet-swinging Scot. Luke Donald will be licking his lips at a fast-running Wentworth with perfect greens. What better place to reignite a slightly faltering career? The scene of his PGA triumphs in 2011 and 2012? The Hertfordshire-born ace is a fans favourite at Wentworth, where he finished runner-up in 2010, and the course conditions aid a Donald hat-trick bid.

Donald was runner-up in the Heritage a month ago and a missed cut by a shot in the elite company of the Players Championship last time out is easy to forgive. The PGA is a significant drop in grade for a man used to competing on the toughest circuit of them all, and the former world number one can approach this event with confidence.

Marc Warren played well in the GolfSixes in St Albans at the start of this month, helping Scotland to third place, and that form makes him a Wentworth dark horse. There were signs of life from the Glasgow-based 36-year-old prior to the Sixes – he opened with a 63 in the Maybank Championship in February – and much of his best golf usually comes in the UK.

Warren was a playoff loser to Matteo Manassero in the 2013 PGA. He won the Johnnie Walker in Scotland in 2007, has placed three times in the Scottish Open, twice in the Dunhill Links, once in the Irish Open and once in the Wales Open. He was a semi-finalist in the 2015 Paul Lawrie Match Play and this consistently excellent putter thrives in the home nations. Power's opening-show 200-1 was ludicrous for a three-time Tour champion and the remaining 160-1 is still way too generous.

Others to note
Peter Uihlein
The American has made 12 cuts in a row, has some strong UK form in the book, and putts better than most. Punters wanting six strings to their bow should take the 80-1.

Tyrrell Hatton
The 25-year-old Wycombe boy has established himself in the top 20 of the world rankings and must be respected on home turf. He was seventh at Wentworth last year.

Alexander Levy
The swashbuckling Frenchman won the China Open at the end of last month and could enjoy himself on a course which is set up for birdies.

Thomas Pieters
The Ryder Cup star is one of the best players in the field, but a firm and fast layout is not ideal, and he has not competed in an individual event since the Masters.

Justin Rose
The Masters runner-up has been unimpressive since that heartache, but perhaps a return home will provide a tonic. Twice PGA runner-up, but no value at skinny prices.

Henrik Stenson
The struggling Swede, who missed the Zurich Classic cut alongside Rose last month, is an equally unappealing betting option at short odds. Has missed the weekend in five of his last seven events.

Staking plan
C Wood
2.5pts each-way 35-1 bet365, Betfred
P Dunne
2pts each-way 100-1 Betfred
T Fleetwood
2pts each-way 33-1 Coral
L Donald
1pt each-way 55-1 Betfred
M Warren
0.5pt each-way 160-1 bet365

BMW PGA Championship lowdown
Course West Course, Wentworth Club, Virginia Water, Surrey
Prize money €5m (€833,330 to the winner)
Length 7,308 yards
Par 72
Field 150
Course records – 72 holes 267 Byeong Hun An (2015) 18 holes 62 Robert Karlsson (2010), Thomas Bjorn (2014)
Course winners (strokeplay) taking part David Howell, Luke Donald (twice), Matteo Manassero, Byeong Hun An, Chris Wood
When to bet By 7am Thursday
Where to watch Live on Sky Sports from 10am
Last week – Rocco Forte Open 1 A Quiros (150-1), 2 Z Lombard (200-1), 3 H Li (25-1), 4 P Angles (100-1), T5 M Fraser (80-1), J Scrivener (80-1)

Course overview The legendary Harry Colt-designed West Course at Wentworth has been the host venue for the PGA Championship since 1984 and also staged the World Match Play from 1964 to 2007.

The course has been extensively remodelled over recent years (a project started in 2005) by long-time Wentworth member and seven-times Match Play champion Ernie Els.

Another significant revamp has taken place since last year's championship, after Ernie Els Design took advice from Thomas Bjorn and Paul McGinley. Every bunker was redesigned and reconstructed or removed (29 have gone).

The result is a far less penal layout and the birdie-count should increase. Every green was stripped of its turf and re-seeded with a new creeping bent grass. Four of the greens – the eighth, 11th, 14th and 16th – have been completely reshaped.

Five other greens have been partially rebuilt, while all the putting surfaces have had a sub-air system installed to make them firmer and faster. The dancefloors are purer than ever.

Tall trees line the fairways, many of which are doglegs, so it is a demanding driving course. The layout closes with two par-fives – the 610-yard 17th and the 539-yard 18th.

A greenside water hazard was controversially added to the 18th before the 2010 renewal, discouraging most competitors from going for the green in two shots.

The hazard remains, but the green has gradually been made larger and lower, with the fairway extended at the landing area and tree-tops clipped. Aggressive players have a more welcoming Wentworth this year

Story of last year Rikard Karlberg set the clubhouse lead at eight under par after a final-round 65, before Chris Wood edged him by a shot

Weather forecast Sunny and calm throughout, which should result in bumper crowds

Type of player suited to challenge Wentworth has been made easier, with the bunkering less severe and flatter, purer greens. The weather forecast is kind, too, so expect a low-scoring week and those holing most putts on the perfect dancefloors to succeed

Key attribute Touch

Wood is a superb putter who seems to raise his game when performing close to home
E.W. Terms
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