Odds and Ends: Red-hot Hovland primed for another Viktor-y at Wentworth

Viktor Hovland got his hands on the Tour Championship and FedEx Cup in America at the end of last month and he could be collecting more silverware on this side of the Atlantic at the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth come Sunday evening Picture by AP
Viktor Hovland got his hands on the Tour Championship and FedEx Cup in America at the end of last month and he could be collecting more silverware on this side of the Atlantic at the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth come Sunday evening Picture by AP

IN what feels like a very long lifetime of watching professional golf, rarely have I witnessed an end to a top-level event like the one in the Horizon Irish Open at The K Club on Sunday.

About 10 different players looked like they were going to win at one stage on the final day, before each fell over their own feet to allow the one man who felt he had no chance – Vincent Norrman – to hold on for an unlikely victory.

Home hope Rory McIlroy imploded in fairly spectacular style, while Shane Lowry played beautifully but couldn’t get enough putts to drop to turn a share of third into a second Irish Open success.

With three holes to play, meanwhile, Ryan Fox, a 40/1 selection for us last week, had the whole thing at his mercy before limping home to join Lowry in third place.

Hurly Long also looked like a winner during the afternoon, a maiden victory that would have been very apt given that his name translates directly into Gaelic as Poc Fada. I think.

In the end, Norrman was left as the last man standing to grab a second European Tour success of the season, a week after fellow Swede Ludvig Aberg claimed the Omega European Masters in fine style to seal a Ryder Cup wild card.

All 12 members of Luke Donald’s European team are in attendance at Wentworth this week for the DP World Tour’s flagship event, the BMW PGA Championship, having made a flying visit to Rome on Monday to get acquainted with the Marco Simone course.

And while there is bound to be some bonding going on behind the scenes over the next few days, each of the dozen will be desperate to get the better of the others to grab the winner’s share of the $9 million Rolex Series prize-fund.

As well as all of the leading lights Europe has to offer, 2021 winner Billy Horschel, Korean star Tom Kim, evergreen Aussie Adam Scott and his young compatriot Min Woo Lee are also in the field for what is a high-class event.

Lowry held off McIlroy and Jon Rahm last year to finally seal the Wentworth victory that has looked inevitable for a decade or more on a track he simply loves, but it is those joint runners-up who dominate the market this time along with man of the moment, Viktor Hovland.

And the recent history of this championship suggests we will get an elite winner again, with the days of Simon Khan, Scott Drummond or Anders Hansen sneaking in at big prices seemingly gone.

Wentworth has been a staple of the European Tour for decades, but it has been modernised over the last 15 years, with the pair of par-fives to finish ensuring the drama goes right down to the wire.

It is a classic, tree-lined track that puts an emphasis on accuracy from tee-to-green, although any lack of power will also be exposed.

The last three champions – Lowry, Horschel and Tyrrell Hatton – have all led the tee-to-green stats for the week which seems like a pretty good place to start this time around as well, while each of the last seven winners had at least one top-eight finish at Wentworth previously.

McIlroy (7/1, Paddy Power) ticks the latter box as the 2014 champion and a runner-up in 2018 and last term, but he would need to sort out the destructive shots that derailed his K Club challenge, having hit the front early on the final day.

Rahm – an 8/1 chance – has been second on each of his two visits to Wentworth and should go close, although his famed long game was strangely out of kilter last time out at the Tour Championship at the end of August, which would be a slight concern.

Nothing has been out of kilter in Hovland’s game of late, and of the big three in the betting he is the one to keep onside at 7/1 generally.

The Norwegian has been riding the crest of a wave, storming home with a stunning 61 to win the BMW Championship in Chicago before putting on a clinic to clinch the FedEx Cup at East Lake, leading the field for driving and in the tee-to-green stats.

There is a slight chance Hovland may have lost a little of his edge after a couple of weeks off, but that’s not a major concern for me, while he ticks the Wentworth form box, having been a close-up fifth last term and 11th on his debut in 2019, so he really shouldn’t be missed.

Shane Lowry won the BMW PGA Championship last year and a successful defence would be no surprise at all Picture by PA
Shane Lowry won the BMW PGA Championship last year and a successful defence would be no surprise at all Picture by PA

Of course, a 7/1 shot isn’t to everyone’s liking especially in such a deep field, so alternatives at bigger prices will also be sought.

The beauty of this event is that all of the main men have some course form, but I find it impossible to get away from Lowry at 18/1 with Paddy Power, who are amongst a number of firms paying eight places.

The Clara man has a host of great displays at possibly his favourite course to his name, dating back to a second to McIlroy in 2014, right through to his victory last year.

Lowry also led at halfway in 2020 before fading slightly, but he is always a factor here and looked right back to his best from tee-to-green in the Irish Open, with a cold putter on Saturday stopping him winning.

He has been fired up by criticism of his selection as a Ryder Cup wild card, and might just produce once more on the big stage by defending his title to go to Rome in the best possible fettle.

Outside of the bigger names in the field, England’s Aaron Rai might be worth keeping an eye on despite a mixed record on Wentworth’s West Course.

He has been concentrating his efforts mainly on the PGA Tour in the last couple of years, and came close to making a breakthrough when third in the RBC Canadian Open earlier in the summer.

Rai had a month off before finishing 39th in Kildare on Sunday, but he led the field for greens in regulation, only to be let down by his putter, and he has shown he can play Wentworth, with a 14th in 2021 a decent enough effort.

A very tidy tee-to-green player, 45/1 chance Rai could well be a factor if he can get a few putts to drop, and he isn’t scared of winning big events as a former Scottish Open champion.

Eddie Pepperell is again of interest at 150/1 generally despite a missed cut last week, which came as a result of a couple of bad holes on Friday rather than generally bad play.

He has been going well of late with top-10s at Galgorm and in Switzerland, based largely round great iron play, and with two sixth-placed finishes at Wentworth he could figure at a price.

Finally, I’ll stick with Connor Syme as well after he got us a slice of place money on Sunday, a closing 66 good enough for a share of seventh.

That followed on from a fourth at Galgorm and then third in Switzerland, all of those results based on excellent tee-to-green performances.

A lack of Wentworth pedigree is a slight concern but the Scot made the cut on his debut last term and at 125/1 with Boylesports it is well worth taking the risk that he can run into a place again. 


Viktor Hovland, 7/1 (General)

Shane Lowry, e/w, 18/1 (Paddy Power)

Aaron Rai, e/w, 50/1 (Boylesports)

Eddie Pepperell, e/w, 150/1 (General)

Connor Syme, e/w, 125/1 (Boylesports)