Main Bet: Christiaan Bezuidenhout each-way @ 40/1
A first glance at the history books suggests that winners at Wentworth tend to have dropped a pretty big hint in their previous journeys around the West Course – so much so that 14 of the last 15 winners already had a top ten there (the exception was An Byeong-hun in 2015 who surprised everyone with victory on debut).
An even closer look at the records reveals that there is a subtle extra detail because those same 14 winners not only ended the week in the top ten, they also did so have been in-contention after 54 holes.
In other words, they know what it’s like to spend a restless Saturday night in Surrey fretting about the prospect of lifting a prestigious trophy the next afternoon.
And if you dig even deeper, 12 of those players had that experience in the three years prior to their win.
That spells good news for South Africa’s Christiaan Bezuidenhout who spent all of last year’s event in-contention, posting rounds of 68-67-69-68 to sit fifth after round one and third after every 18 holes thereafter.
Nor were they the only good numbers the 26-year-old racked up on his tournament debut.
He ranked 11th for Strokes Gained Approach, fifth for both Tee to Green and Around the Green, and fourth for Putting. Even his weakest category, Off the Tee, was 24th.
In traditional statistics, no-one bettered his total of Greens in Regulation and he ranked second only to Richie Ramsay when Scrambling.
Less happily, he was tripped up on the Scottish links last Friday and before that had spent the bulk of the year on the PGA Tour where some might take issue with his form.
I’d take a more charitable approach and suggest that WGC debuts of T29th in Mexico and T20th at the St Jude were handy.
I’d say the same of T28th when having his first look at Harbour Town, T18th when tied fourth after 54 holes at Bay Hill and T22nd at a brutal Muirfield Village.
I wouldn’t go overboard with any of it, but I wouldn’t write it off either. Instead, I’d suspect he has a chance to thrive on return to a level he’s clearly enjoyed over the last 18 months or so.
In that period he’s teed it up 26 times on the European Tour, winning at Valderrama, losing a play-off at the Emirates, adding another pair of seconds, two thirds, a fourth, and on another two occasions he was only three blows back with 18 holes to play.
In other words, he’s not only a good fit for the test, but when he plays European Tour golf he knows how to get himself in contention.
Next Best: Fabrizio Zanotti each-way @ 100/1
Midway through the third round of last week’s Scottish Open Paraguay’s Fabrizio Zanotti was flying high on the leaderboard, draining a perfectly weighted putt and celebrating in loud style with his playing partner Pablo Larrazabal.
A couple of hours later he’d played the back nine in five-over and on Sunday he never got going, adding a 73 to end the week T48th.
I’m willing to forgive that finale and focus instead on the fact that, in comparison with his other 28 starts in Scotland on the European Tour, it was one of his better efforts.
Moreover, a week earlier he’d returned to the circuit for the first time since lockdown and after a steady start had flown home on a wet-sail for a 63 and tied seventh.
He’d clearly taken to Galgorm Castle’s parkland challenge, just as he has when claiming a win at Gut Larchenhof, runner-up spots at Woburn and PGA Catalunya, and a third place at Milano.
He also boasts a neat Wentworth logbook, landing six top 25 finishes in his 11 starts there.
Back in 2011 he was third heading into the final round, in 2015 he recorded a best of seventh and two years ago he hung around inside the top 20 all week before finishing T15th.
I’m also intrigued that he was second at Royal Portrush in 2012. Like the West Course, the Northern Irish track is a Harry Colt design, one Wentworth specialist Shane Lowry won the Open on, when the last three winners of this event joined him in the top 12.
Final Bet: John Catlin each-way @ 66/1
Back in the early years of the 21st century, when Valderrama was a regular stop for the season-ending Volvo Masters, there was an element of connection between results there and at Wentworth.
Players whose form was a neat fit for the one course would quickly prove to be an equally satisfactory slot-in at the other.
Colin Montgomerie, Paul McGinley and Soren Kjeldsen thrived this way, a few years later Shane Lowry started racking up top finishes at both venues.
In 2016 and 2019 Valderrama hosted the Tour at different times of the year – instead of a late-season venture to the south of Spain, the first of those events was in April, the second in June.
As a consequence, they took place just a few weeks before this championship and the Valderrama winners thrived at Wentworth.
In 2016 Andrew Johnston won the Open de Espana, then overcame a terrible first round of 76, with left him T116th on Thursday night, to finished tied seventh on the West Course.
Three years later first pick Bezuidenhout landed the Andalucia Masters and then, as we’ve discussed, collected third at Wentworth.
Can John Catlin complete the hat trick?
He’s untested on the course but we’ve learned in the last month that his experience of winning in Asia has reaped benefits when he’s found himself with a sniff of the win in Europe.
He was resolute at Valderrama last month and similarly tough at Galgorm Castle, but he also proved he had the ability to change gear when needed, closing the win out with an aggressive final lap of 64.
He missed the cut last week in Scotland, but did so after a pair of 72s that should do little to dent the confidence.
He’s got a free run at a big event and his superb short game can only help – the last seven winners ranked 21st or better at Scrambling and Catlin currently leads the Tour for that skill set.