The 12 members of Europe’s Ryder Cup team will know each other pretty well by the end of this week’s BMW PGA Championship.
Fresh off a short trip to Rome to play the course at the Marco Simone club and bond as a team over dinner, the chosen dozen have been placed together across four groups for the first two rounds at Wentworth. Europe captain Luke Donald will even play with two of his assistants, Italian brothers Edoardo and Francesco Molinari.
The BMW PGA Championship is often described as the flagship event on the European tour. This year, the tournament is pretty much doubling as extended Ryder Cup prep.
Shane Lowry has been so busy these past few days — getting a captain’s pick, playing the Irish Open near his childhood home, the flying visit to Rome — that he said he nearly forgot he was coming to Wentworth to defend his title.
For sure, the pre-tournament chatter has been dominated by the Ryder Cup, which starts Sept. 29. Questions to players have been as much about the set-up at Marco Simone — the rough is “pretty brutal in spots,” according to Lowry — as how the West Course is looking this week.
“You kind of need to bring yourself back down to earth over these next couple days,” Lowry said, “and get ready to play a tournament before we go there in a couple weeks.”
That shouldn’t be too hard in a week when there’s a prize fund of $9 million, with the tournament being one of the tour’s prestigious Rolex Series events.
Lowry is in a group with fellow captain’s picks Tommy Fleetwood and Sepp Straka. They’ll be going out Thursday morning, two groups after the headline act: No. 2-ranked Rory McIlroy, No. 4-ranked Viktor Hovland and a new star of European golf, Ludvig Aberg.
In the afternoon, Ryder Cup trio Jon Rahm, Nicolai Hojgaard and Tyrrell Hatton are together, as are Robert MacIntyre, Justin Rose and Matt Fitzpatrick.
McIlroy played with Aberg — the 23-year-old Swede who turned pro in June and won on the European tour in Switzerland this month — in Rome on Monday for the first time, and it already sounds like he’s a big fan.
“Everyone talks about what a great driver of the golf ball he is — which he is,” McIlroy said. “The ball-striking is incredible. But I was really impressed with his wedge play and how he can sort of control his trajectory with shorter clubs. I was on the bandwagon before. Certainly at the front of it now.”
McIlroy is coming off a tied-for-16th finish at the Irish Open, when he found the water four times in the final round to drop out of contention. He said he is over the back issues which affected him at the Tour Championship last month and is looking forward to recharging next week — the last before Ryder Cup week — after a busy run of events.
By then, McIlroy might be a two-time winner at Wentworth, after a triumph in 2014 — the year he last won a major. He was tied for second last year with Rahm and joked he would have beaten Lowry if the tournament, which was reduced to 54 holes with no play on Friday after the death of Queen Elizabeth II, had been over four rounds.
“Excited to get back to a place that I’ve fallen in and out of love with over the years in terms of the golf course,” McIlroy said. “Once you get comfortable on the golf course … it sort of makes you play a certain way and once you accept that, you can do well.”
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