PGA has eclipsed The Players – Els

Ernie Els believes the BMW PGA Championship has replaced The Players as the top event outside of the majors.

Ernie Els firmly believes that the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth has replaced The Players Championship as the most prestigious tournament outside of the majors.

The Players, a US PGA Tour event, has long been dubbed the game’s ‘unofficial fifth major’ but Els believes the European Tour’s flagship event has now usurped that position in the ever-changing world of golf.

Except for the controversial 18th, the big South African was the brains behind a major revamp of the Wentworth lay-out ahead of last year’s tournament and, with a few further tweaks having been made ahead of the 2011 edition, he is convinced that the Surrey lay-out is now on a par with any major venue in the game.

“This (tournament) is definitely taking the place of the TPC,” Els told Reuters on Wednesday.

“At least at the new 18th hole there is now a bailout area whereas at the notorious island green at the 17th at Sawgrass there is no bailout and you can lose the tournament there.

“I also feel we’ve got a stronger field here and a classic golf course,” added Els, making reference to the fact that seven of the world’s top nine ranked players as well as all four of the last major winners will be in the field at Wentworth this week.

“I want to make this feel like the Augusta of the European Tour and we can do that. We’ve got the trees, a great lay-out and we just want to keep making it better and not go backwards.

Els said Wentworth this year was especially beautiful, describing it as “the best I’ve seen the course in many a year.

“It’s a championship course and it can stand with any major now. The greens are in great shape and are running nicely.

“The course and the bunkers have been manicured really well – we’ve made some changes from last year again and it’s a helluva test, but I think it’s a fair test.”

Els was on the receiving end of a good deal of criticism from a number of his peers last year after they had experienced the changes
for the first time in competitive.

The overhaul of the 18th proved a particular bone of contention with the introduction of a moat and an elevated green drawing stinging criticism from most, but this change had been made at the demand of the owner who wanted to add excitement to the finish and was not on Els’s original plan.

But further work has taken place on the closing par-five and the ‘Big Easy’ is confident they now have the balance right – and not just at that hole, but across the entire course.

“The green is almost twice as big now,” he continued. “It’s gone from some 380 square metres to 586, that’s a huge change.

“There is also a big bailout area to the right where the bunkers are. As a player, I understand when you can go for something and when you can’t and last year it was a green you couldn’t go for (in two).

“I think more than 50 per cent of the guys, if they are in position this year, they will now go for the green.

“We’ll see what the comments are in the papers. Last year I was always a little uneasy but this time I’m feeling very confident.

“If there’s criticism this year I will take it very lightly because I think the course is right where we want it now.”