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Monday, 17 December, 2018

Matt Fitzpatrick set to thrill his army of fans at sunny Wentworth

Ryder Cup hopefuls can showcase their talent

Matthew Fitzpatrick possesses a textbook swing
1 of 1

Sky Sports Golf, from 10am Thursday
Starts 7am

Rory McIlroy headlines the BMW PGA Championship, which starts at Wentworth on Thursday, and the former world number one is a best-price 8-1 to win the European Tour's flagship event for a second time.

McIlroy triumphed in the 2014 edition, finding comfort on the golf course in the immediate wake of his split from Caroline Wozniacki, but his overall record at Wentworth is patchy. He has missed the cut four times in eight starts.

This is his first visit since the latest set of course changes – the Florida-based Northern Irishman has not teed up in the Surrey showpiece since missing the cut by four shots in 2015 – and the favourite makes no appeal on a layout which is far from perfect for him.

Defending champion Alex Noren has a similar Wentworth record to McIlroy – many flops alongside the victory – and the Swede was fortunate the weather gods assisted his come-from-behind success 12 months ago.

Tommy Fleetwood missed the cut by three shots last year and has never looked comfortable at this venue. The top of the outright market is unattractive and punters are advised to look slightly deeper in the betting for the best options.

Palmer's top tip
Matt Fitzpatrick 33-1
The English have dominated the PGA over the last decade, with five of the previous nine stagings producing a home winner, and much-loved Sheffield lad Matt Fitzpatrick can bolster that statistic by lifting the trophy on Sunday.

The diminutive Fitzpatrick, with his choirboy looks and infectious smile, is a darling of the galleries. But behind the innocent exterior lies a fearsome competitor who is typically ruthless when in contention for silverware. Fitzpatrick, who appears to be finding form again, is deadly when he gets a sniff of glory.

Victory in the 2013 US Amateur and low-amateur honours in the Open that followed were strong clues to the superb temperament of Fitzpatrick, then success quickly arrived in the professional ranks. A European Tour breakthrough came in the 2015 British Masters at Woburn, a magnificent performance which advertises his chance of being a homeland hero on a similar track this week.

Three further European Tour triumphs have followed and Fitzpatrick does not even turn 24 until September. This sweet-swinger finds fairways for fun, displays textbook technique in all departments, and can approach a daunting layout like Wentworth with confidence. A share of 47th was a decent debut in 2016, then he finished 12th last year, closing with a 66 which hinted that he has got the measure of the course.

The only weakness of Fitzpatrick is a lack of driving distance, but that is not an issue at Wentworth, where there is plenty of run on the ball and a scorching weekend is set to bake the turf. Control, the Fitzpatrick forte, is the key to success.

Next best
Francesco Molinari 22-1
Fitzpatrick relishes the patriotic crowds and is obviously comfortable in England, while London-based Italian Francesco Molinari also feels relaxed at this tournament. The West Ham fan stays at home during the event, supported by family and friends, and gets to tackle one of his favourite layouts.

The course form from last year is much more relevant than any others – the changes prior were significant – and Molinari finished runner-up. He was an unlucky loser – Noren got to play his final round in perfect weather and was in possession of a magic-wand on the greens – and it was not the first time Molinari has contended in the PGA. His last six Wentworth starts have yielded form figures of 7-9-7-5-55-2.

Molinari, a four-time European Tour champion, two-time Ryder Cup player, and runner-up in the USPGA at the end of last summer, is a big fish in the PGA field and a rock-solid each-way investment on ideal terrain.

Other selections
Shane Lowry 33-1
Paul Dunne 33-1
Steven Brown 300-1
The Ryder Cup is looming large and players outside of the qualification places need to raise their game. Fitzpatrick and Molinari are not in the European team as things stand, while Irish duo Shane Lowry and Paul Dunne know that they need to sparkle in the next few months to threaten a Cup debut in Paris.

Lowry will be excited with his return to Wentworth, a track on which he is proven, and will appreciate the downgrade from the US Tour. The Offaly man moved his family to Florida at the start of this year, seeking to improve Stateside performances, and results have been disappointing during their settling in period. A tie for 14th in Houston at the start of last month banked a decent cheque, though, and he will have eyes on first prize this week at a course which suits him well.

Lowry, fourth in 2011, 12th in 2013, second in 2014, sixth in 2015 and sixth again last year, has been an almost permanent fixture on the Wentworth leaderboard, and the 2009 Irish Open champ has a fantastic record in events in Britain and Ireland.

His compatriot, Dunne, also seems to find an extra gear playing close to home. On three occasions, Dunne has won the Open Championship Final Qualifying event at Woburn, while his maiden European Tour title came in the British Masters last year. The improving youngster tasted victory in England again in the GolfSixes pairs event alongside Gavin Moynihan at the start of this month.

Dunne made a name for himself when leading the Open as an amateur going into the final round at St Andrews in 2015, and stellar recent form hints he could make another bold bid for the Claret Jug this summer. In the last couple of months, Dunne has impressed on the US Tour, finishing fifth in the Corales Championship and eighth in Houston, then he was runner-up to Jon Rahm in the Spanish Open and seventh in China. A tie for 30th was a respectable Wentworth debut last year.

Hearty each-way bets on Fitzpatrick, Molinari, Lowry and Dunne are recommended, with the staking plan completed by a small tickle on Steven Brown, who is attached to Wentworth and knows the venue like the back of his hand.

Brown's two best Challenge Tour performances have come close to home – third place in the Bridgestone Challenge in Luton last year and second spot in the Irish Challenge in Carlow – and two bright recent European Tour spins suggest he could be a factor over the next four days at the track he grew up playing. Brown was 16th in the Indian Open in March and seventh in the Rocco Forte Sicilian Open the week before last.

Others to note
Alexander Bjork The China Open champion finished 14th on his Wentworth debut last year and could improve on that with increased confidence levels. The accurate Swede is well worth considering.

Paul Casey The 40-year-old has twice triumphed at Wentworth – the 2006 World Match Play and the 2009 PGA – and won the Valspar Championship on the US Tour in March. Dangerman but no bargain at the odds.

Tyrrell Hatton The Buckinghamshire boy is another Englishman to respect playing close to home. His first two European Tour victories came in Britain (Dunhill Links) and his last one was at a tree-lined venue with similarities to Wentworth (Italian Open).

Chris Wood The 2016 champion loves this assignment and has a strong record in the UK and Ireland, but he has been struggling for form in recent weeks.

Jordan Smith The Bath boy made a slow start to this season, but closed with a 64 for third spot in the China Open at the end of last month and could be creeping back to his best.

Branden Grace The South African fired a final-round 62 for third place in the AT&T Byron Nelson on Sunday. Has twice recorded a top-ten finish at Wentworth, but offers no value at a short price.

Staking plan
M Fitzpatrick
2.5pts each-way 33-1 188bet
F Molinari
2.5pts each-way 22-1 Betfair
S Lowry
2pts each-way 33-1 Betfred
P Dunne
2pts each-way 33-1 Betway
S Brown
0.5pt each-way 300-1 Power

The lowdown

Course West Course, Wentworth Club, Virginia Water, Surrey

Prize money $7m (€1,116,900 to the winner)

Length 7,284 yards  Par 72  Field 150

Course records – 72 holes 267 Byeong Hun An (2015) 18 holes 62 Robert Karlsson (2010), Thomas Bjorn (2014), Alex Noren (2017)

Course winners (strokeplay) taking part David Howell, Paul Casey, Simon Khan, Matteo Manassero, Rory McIlroy, Byeong Hun An, Chris Wood, Alex Noren

When to bet By 7am Thursday
Where to watch Live on Sky Sports from 10am Thursday

Last week – Belgian Knockout – 1 A Otaegui (25-1), 2 B Hebert (50-1), 3 D Drysdale (250-1), 4 J Heath (400-1)

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.

Prior to the last edition, every green was stripped of its turf and re-seeded with creeping bentgrass. Four of the greens – the eighth, 11th, 14th and 16th – were completely reshaped. Five other greens were partially rebuilt, while all the putting surfaces 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 521-yard 18th, which has been shortened by 18 yards from last year to encourage attacking golf.

Story of last year Alex Noren was seven shots behind at the start of the final round, but the Swede carded a 62 in pleasant early conditions before watching the leaders struggle in afternoon rain. Nobody could reach his 11-under-par total.

Weather forecast Set fair for the most part, with a scorching weekend in store. Some afternoon drizzle expected on Thursday. Light breezes throughout.

Type of player suited to challenge Strong driving is demanded to find the tree-lined fairways. Long-game accuracy combined with short-game wizardry is the ticket to success at Wentworth, particularly in the firm, fast conditions expected this week.

Key attribute Accuracy


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Behind the innocent exterior lies a fearsome competitor who is typically ruthless when in contention for silverware
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