Ryder Cup race begins with new name emerging for Europe

September 18, 2019
Justin Ray

With an elite global field in tow, this week’s BMW PGA Championship marks the first event in the race to qualify for the 2020 European Ryder Cup team.

While stars like Rory, Rose and Rahm seem like locks for Captain Padraig Harrington’s team, one young player currently outside the top-100 in the world might make an interesting case to join the reigning champions in Wisconsin next September.

Viktor Hovland makes his first European Tour start as a professional this week. Last week at The Greenbrier, the 2018 U.S. Amateur champion tied a bit of PGA Tour history: Hovland has recorded 17 straight PGA Tour rounds in the 60s, tying the longest such streak since records began in 1983 (Bob Estes had a run of 17 in a row in 2001). In his last 7 starts across all Tours, Viktor has not finished outside the top-20 and is a combined 100 strokes under par.

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Hovland has posted elite metrics since turning pro this summer. He didn’t play in enough events to officially qualify, but Viktor’s averages in strokes gained off-the-tee, approach, tee-to-green and total would all have ranked in the top-five on the PGA Tour in 2018-19 if he had. He also would have led the Tour in greens in regulation (73.6%).

The big stage doesn’t seem to startle him, either. This year, Hovland became just the third player since 1990 to earn low amateur honors at the Masters and U.S. Open in the same year. The other two to do it in that span are Phil Mickelson (1991) and Matt Kuchar (1998). Viktor’s 72-hole score of 280 at Pebble Beach broke Jack Nicklaus’ 59-year-old record for low total score by an amateur in the U.S. Open.

It’s obviously very early in both his career and the Ryder Cup process – we still have twelve full months until Whistling Straits – but based on what he’s done so far as a professional, it’s worth putting Hovland on the European Ryder Cup radar.

KNOW THE COURSE

Driving accuracy is significant at Wentworth: missing the fairway, on average, is worth a penalty of about half-a-shot per hole over the last five years. That ranks as one of the steepest penalties on the European Tour during that span.

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While the average winner on the European Tour this season has ranked outside the top-30 in the field in fairways hit, the last ten players to win the BMW PGA have had an average driving accuracy rank of 23.3. Francesco Molinari was fourth in the field in driving accuracy in his win here last year (77%). The most penalizing fairways to miss on the course this week are 11 (0.73 difference on average against hitting the fairway) and 15 (0.58 difference).

NOTES ON THE FIELD

– Since his disastrous opening round at Royal Portrush, Rory McIlroy has been absolutely rolling. In 21 competitive rounds since that day, Rory has shot in the 60s 17 times. His scoring average during that span is 67.4. McIlroy has good memories at Wentworth – he came from seven shots back to win in 2014, a precursor to his multi-major summer that season.

– Speaking of comebacks, Wentworth has been prone to Sunday dramatics in recent years. Since 2007, there have been five players to come from four shots back or more to win on the final day. That’s the same number of 54-hole leaders to win the tournament in that same span! Three of those comebacks – Simon Khan in 2010, McIlroy in ’14 and Alex Noren in 2017 – were from seven shots behind.

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Rory led the field in this event last year in strokes gained off-the-tee and strokes gained approach. He ranked 55th, though, in strokes gained putting and finished two strokes behind Molinari.

Molinari has been lights out in this event in recent years: since 2012, Francesco is a combined 53-under-par in the BMW PGA Championship, 19 strokes better than anyone else in that span. Branden Grace is second-best at -34.

– This week’s tournament carries a ‘strength of field’ rating (as assessed by World Ranking points) of 416 – the highest at Wentworth since 2012.

– Expect a hot start from Jon Rahm this week: in his last eight worldwide tournaments, Rahm has a first round scoring average of 66.9. Of course, Rahm has been great of late regardless of round –  he’s rattled off eight straight top-12 finishes, posting 22 rounds in the 60s during that span.

– There is only one player currently in the world top-50 who has not missed a cut in 2019: Tommy Fleetwood. Currently 9th in the 15th Club Performance Index, Tommy has five top-15 finishes in his last six worldwide starts with a scoring average of 68.6 in that span.

TIGER WOODS STAT OF THE WEEK

In the last 85 years, there are two instances of a player winning the same PGA Tour event four consecutive seasons. Tiger Woods owns both of them.