The European Tour arrives in Britain for the first time this year for the Tour’s flagship event, the BMW PGA Championship.
This tournament has attracted huge demand for tickets and a top-class field. With advance ticket sales running at their highest level ever, the organisers have had to provide extra capacity and erect more seating in the grandstand areas, especially around the 18th green.
Northern Irishman Rory McIlory certainly provided a grandstand finish last year. Seven shots behind leader Thomas Bjørn going into the final day, he charged up the leaderboard courtesy of a round of 66 to win by a stroke from Shane Lowry.
McIlroy will be one of nine major champions to tee it up on Thursday. The others are Justin Rose, Ernie Els, Martin Kaymer, Graeme McDowell, Paul Lawrie, Padraig Harrington, Darren Clarke and YE Yang.
Luke Donald, winner here in 2011 and 2012, explains what it takes to win around Wentworth’s West Course: “The course is very much a positional one. Even though it is quite long off the back tees there are a lot of holes which you can’t take driver off the tee so it’s a case of threading it between the fairway bunkers. Then you need a lot of precision into the greens because a lot of them are protected by these now-deep bunkers and are quite sectioned off. It is certainly a shotmaker’s course.”
Four things to watch for at the BMW PGA Championship:
1. Rory McIlroy. Can anyone stop the World Number One? In his last 10 events on the European Tour he has not finished outside the top 10 and has recorded five victories and two runner-up spots. He is also comfortable around a layout that not all the Tour pros enjoy.
2. Justin Rose. This event has a special resonance for him as his father would take him from when he was 8 years old to watch the event. “Outside the majors it is up there as the one I want to win,” says Rose. But he has not yet managed it. He has twice been runner-up, in 2012 and 2007.
3. Course controversies. Wentworth resident Ernie Els redesigned most of the holes in 2010. His redesign was unpopular, in particular regarding the new green complex at 18, with a small green now tucked away and raised above a moat, a piece of Americana many found lay uneasily in the Surrey heathland landscape. Many tour pros criticised the new layout for reducing the fun and drama by being too restricting. This discontent rumbles on, although the layout has been tweaked in subsequent years to mollify opinion and to correct some admitted mistakes.
4. Reaction to the no shows. Three of the last European Ryder Cup team members are staying away — Henrik Stenson, Sergio Garcia and Ian Poulter. None of this trio gets on with the course. In Poulter’s case he has entered 13 times and managed only one top-25 finish. But it has not stopped media criticism of their absence. One who had been widely praised for entering was Patrick Reed, who joined the European Tour this year and was due to play in this event and the Irish Open the following week but since withdrew from both. He was aiming to become only the second American after Arnold Palmer to win the European Tour’s PGA Championship. But he has made a last-minute decision to play instead in the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial this week.