Wentworth week - tricky greens, odd course records and odder winners
1) Big guns giving it a miss
The big name this week will be Masters champion Danny Willett and the Sheffield star will be bringing his Green Jacket to Virginia Water. Which is all good news for the European Tour’s flagship event.
The bad news is that Rory McIlroy, winner here in 2014 and tournament host last week, pulled out a couple of weeks ago in order to not have to play four weeks on the trot. And Justin Rose had to withdraw last week with a back injury that he struggled with at Sawgrass.
Of the victorious Ryder Cup team at Gleneagles Henrik Stenson, Sergio Garcia and Ian Poulter will also be giving the Burma Road a swerve.
2) The Big Easy lets rip..
There is an argument to say that the championship has lost a bit of its sparkle. One reason is the quality of the greens. In the past the players have moaned, quietly and not so quietly, about the condition of the greens. One feeling is that the championship comes too early in the year.
One of the biggest gripes about the course set-up came from the designer himself, Ernie Els. The South African oversaw the redesigns in 2009 but that didn’t stop him letting rip in 2012 where he dropped the F bomb three times as a hard-baked Wentworth didn’t play as he intended. Here’s how he viewed the set-up of the course four years ago.
“You have a 30mph breeze blowing, so put f***ing water on the greens. If they put water on the damn green, you at least have a chance to hold the f***ing green. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure that out.
“I have been warning the Tour about this since Monday but it is like talking to this bloody wall behind me. So the guys aren’t going to be very happy. And I’m with them.”
Els will be another to miss the event this year but he will be again be at the helm of another remodeling of the course. This will involve the re-seeding of all 18 greens with big changes to the 8th, 11th, 14th, 15th and 16th greens. There will also be 23 less bunkers, going from 88 to 65.
3) More money, more prestige
Prize money, according to the European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley, would get the big names in. He described the kitty of €5.1m (£3.9m) as ‘unacceptable’.
Speaking last year in Dubai he said: “A lot of people talk about Wentworth as being a flagship event. Wentworth is €5.1m. The other event in the US that week is $6.1. That’s unacceptable. Wentworth needs to be $8-10m. Our flagship event right here is the DP World Tour Championship, which is $8m plus a bonus prize.”
4) The key to cracking the West Course code
Robert Karlsson shares the course record here with Thomas Bjorn but the Swede’s effort of 62 was something else.
In 2010 Karlsson, convinced that he had missed the cut, flew home to Monaco and, just as he was about to arrive, he was told to make his way back to Virginia Water.
He said: “It crossed my mind to withdraw but I know the press in England can be quite lethal in these sort of things, so wasn’t an option.
“It doesn’t look good. It’s a Ryder Cup year. I’m a former Ryder Cup player, on the Tournament Committee – you can’t pull out of the biggest events. That’s just the way it is.”
The last flight to England had gone so Karlsson flew to Paris and checked into the Hilton. At 4.30am he was in a taxi to the other side of the French capital but the driver both didn’t know the way and was falling asleep so another car was sent for. He then boarded a private jet for €11,000. He landed at Heathrow at 6.20am.
Having double-bogeyed the final hole on Friday he then amassed nine birdies and nine pars to move from 63rd to 2nd.
The following day he couldn’t repeat the heroics, shooting 15 shots worse, but a tie for 13th earned him €55,945.
5) What happened last year…
The PGA has thrown up some odd winners and South Korea’s Byeong-hun An was the latest on a list that numbers Andrew Oldcorn, Ignacio Garrido and Simon Khan.
An shot a final-round 65 to win by six, the biggest winning margin since Bernhard Langer in 1993 and his and 267 total also beat the tournament record by two shots.
Ranked 132nd in the world at the start of the week he left
Spain’s Miguel Angel Jimenez and Thailand’s Thongchai Jaidee trailing.
An made his name when he became the youngest-ever winner of the US Amateur Championship in 2009, at the age of 17 and this was his first win on Tour. He was
only the third European Tour rookie to win the PGA Championship in its 60-year history and the first Asian to do so.
An made certain of victory with birdies on the 15th and 17th and a par at 18 completed an impressive performance from the Challenge Tour graduate.