BMW PGA Champs preview
Matt Cooper previews the BMW PGA Championship, the European Tour’s flagship tournament at Wentworth.
The €5.1 million BMW PGA Championship is the European Tour’s flagship event and it has never attracted a better field – indeed, for the first time ever, the four major champions will all compete in a European Tour event (not counting major themselves or WGC tournaments).
Ahead of the first tee-time Matt Cooper discusses the issues of the week, the big stories and the players to watch.
Last year Wentworth’s £5.6million changes – funded by owner Richard Caring and designed by Ernie Els – were unveiled. The response was so negative that Els was left wearing a tin hat and Caring a distinctly red face. “There is going to be criticism with any re-design,” said Els, “but I wasn’t expecting the backlash I got. I don’t think anybody deserved it. A lot of the guys I have known for a long time came out and basically put the knife in and I don’t really appreciate that.”
Lee Westwood had been one of those critics. “I was a big fan of the old finish,” he said. “People like that excitement of birdies and it’s been taken away.”
The real crux of the problem was the 18th green: it was made smaller, shaped like an upturned bowl and protected by a new water feature front left. Many players felt going for the green in two became an unnecessary risk. “It’s become a short par three,” said Chris Wood, referring to the fact that everyone laid up to wedge distance.
Impressively Caring wasted no time in owning up to his mistake (it was he, rather than Els, who had been determined to create such a small target) and announced he would revert to Els’ original design. The bigger target has already drawn praise and more players seem likely to attack the final hole.
Since Tiger Woods’ reign of outright (and absolute) superiority ended last year, the number one spot in the world rankings has changed hands faster than a hot potato.
Much has been made of this – most of it criticism of the nature and implementation of the rankings. That overlooks the fact that the reason the position keeps changing is that no one player currently dominates the rest of the world.
It is not just the world rankings that has a volatile nature – so, too, do the alternative Sagarin index. Imagine if 50 golf experts were polled every week – do you think there would be consistent poll-topper? Or would there be lots of change? The rankings are not at fault – they actually prove what we all know: it is difficult to determine who is currently the world’s best golfer.
What has also emerged is less savoury – the continental discord that always lingers beneath the surface. Some Americans are sniping that the system penalises Americans, which leads some Europeans to bite back. It’s not an argument that makes any of the protagonists look anything but petty.
One man will dominate thoughts all week: the recently deceased Severiano Ballesteros. His name will be forever associated with the European Tour and with Wentworth too. Most European golf fans aged above 20 will have fond memories of him playing either the PGA Championship or World Matchplay on the West Course. On Monday the Ole Seve! Invitational event (and auction that followed it) raised over £600,000 for the Seve Ballesteros Foundation.
A worldwide tour
Ballesteros clearly inspired European golf to scale the heights but his influence went beyond one continent. He was a truly worldwide ambassador for the game and the successful spread of it around the globe is a direct result of what he did to inspire golfers everywhere.
The European Tour has been global for decades but whereas this was largely geographical, it is now reflected in the field too. This week Wentworth will welcome golfers from every corner of the globe. In addition to Europeans there will be representatives from Chile, South Africa, New Zealand, Argentina, India, the USA, Australia, Thailand, Korea and Paraguay.
Throughout the 1980s and 90s, in the heyday of European golf, the stars of the game thrived with Ballesteros, Nick Faldo, Bernhard Langer, Ian Woosnam, Jose Maria Olazabal and Colin Montgomerie dominating. Only Sandy Lyle of that fine generation failed to claim a PGA title.
Since Montgomerie claimed a hat-trick of victories (in 1998, 1999 and 2000) there have been a number of shock wins including Andrew Oldcorn, Anders Hansen, Ignacio Garrido, Scott Drummond and, 12 months ago, the last minute invite Simon Khan.
Players to watch:
The world’s top three players are all in attendance: number one Lee Westwood, number two Luke Donald and number three Martin Kaymer. In addition to the latter, the other three current major winners are also in action: Charl Schwartzel, Louis Oosthuizen and Graeme McDowell.
The course specialists:
In recent years no-one has fared better than Denmark’s Hansen who followed his 2002 shock win with a second title in 2007. Miguel Angel Jimenez has one win to his name and a further five top 20 finishes in the last 12 years. In the same period Darren Clarke – a winner last time out in Mallorca – has failed to win but enjoyed six top 20 finishes. Australia’s Richard Green is another to have made the top 20 six times.
With surprise winners and shock contenders quite common in this event, it is worth looking beyond the obvious. England’s David Horsey loves playing golf amongst the trees, is a recent winner (of the Trophee Hassan II ) and was second at the halfway stage here in 2009. He graduated from the Challenge Tour like his ISM stablemate Joost Luiten who was 17th here on debut in 2010 and who finished fifth at Valderrama at the end of last year. Good performers at Valderrama do often thrive at Wentworth and Luiten has also played well on other Harry Colt designs.
Darren Clarke: “In light of the forecast, we can expect it to be windy all week so with it playing firm and fast it will be tough.”
Graeme McDowell on twitter: “Course in great shape. Some tweaks from last year. Huge improvement.”
Rory McIlroy on twitter: “Changes to the course are good, 18th is now more inviting it u want to go for the green in 2. Should make for exciting finish.”
Luke Donald on twitter (at the end of the players’ dinner): “Great vid to end the night on Seve. Just gets me fired up watching it. #legend.”
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