Els is architect of own downfall as relaid 18th sinks like a stone

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Ernie Els dumped his ball into water down the last here yesterday and could not fail to recognise the irony. All the talk at the BMW PGA Championship continues to focus on the South African's radical redesign of the West Course and, in particular, the adding of that controversial brook on the par-five 18th. Never could a golfer so accurately be described as being the architect of his own downfall.

Certainly there was little sympathy for Els's plight as he saw an early tie for the first-round lead go plop, eventually lying four behind the pacesetter Danny Willett. The sense was Els had been as foolhardy to go for the green in two as he had been to put a tiny, raised green in behind the new water feature. The wise play, declared Lee Westwood and Ross Fisher, was to lay up. But both of the big-hitting Englishmen also acknowledged that what may be wise is not exciting. Indeed, anything but.

"In a way I feel sorry for the viewing public," said Fisher, who stole a two-shot advantage over his playing partner Els by taking the uncharacteristic safe, three-wood, eight-iron, wedge route. "I'm sure they want to see us going for the green in two and making threes or making sixes and sevens. But today's the way I'm going to play it all week. Obviously the designer [Els] has gone for it and hit it in the water, whereas I've played smart and made four. So you can make of it what you want."

It will be interesting what Els makes of those comments when the pair tee it up again this afternoon, although Fisher – the local lad who spent his formative years here – was not the only critic. After his 70, Westwood whistled a similar lament. "I was a big fan of the old finish," said the world No 3. "There's a fine line in keeping a hole exciting and making it tough. I would go for the green in two if I was one off the lead on Sunday and there was five shots back to third. Otherwise I just don't see the point. They tried to make it a risk-reward hole. But the risk is far too great for the reward you might not get anyway."

The scoreboard backed up Westwood. Of the first 100 players in the clubhouse, only one had hit the eagle jackpot. That brave soul was Marc Warren, who interestingly enough was in the first group out and at six-over did not have much to lose when he floated in a four iron to 15 feet. Thereafter the overwhelming majority in contention held back. The exception, of course, was Els. Did he feel obliged to give it the big heave-ho? "It was on," he replied. "I had been hitting the ball so good and it was a perfect little five-wood. I just dragged it. I didn't make a good swing."

Plainly, in the pervading opinion, the swing would have to be rather better than "good". In the build-up Els insisted that once the pros became used to the hole they would garner the confidence to go for it. Westwood doubts that. As far as he is concerned the 18th is in need of another overhaul. "It is retrievable," he said when asked what he would do to bring the reward in balance with the risk. "The green's not great. It's too elevated and needs to be bigger. But if you're going to spend a lot of money on golf course changes it would be nice to get it right first time."

If that makes painful reading for Els and the Wentworth owner Richard Caring – the tycoon who Els actually had to persuade out of digging a huge lake on the 18th – then the comments of Chris Wood will be excruciating. Like Westwood, Wood is in the same management company as Els and like Westwood, Wood was not allowing the association to cloud his assessment. "Wentworth has lost it's English feel," said Wood, after a 70. "They've turned it into an American course. And they've turned the 18th into a 90-yard par three."

Elsewhere, away from all the yada yada, there was the European Tour's flagship tournament going on and in Willett there is an ambitious midshipman ready to storm the decks. The 22-year-old is an interesting character. He is a contemporary of Rory McIlroy's from their amateur days and the 2007 Walker Cup and has been quietly making his name on the circuit while his mate has been blazing his in headlights. Yesterday, while the gloom covered McIlroy with a 74, the glare caught the vicar's son from Sheffield. Nine birdies put him one ahead of the Australian Richard Green. For the record Willett laid up. This was no day to hit and pray.

Leading first-round scores from Wentworth

European Tour BMW PGA Championship, Wentworth GC, Surrey: First round (GB & Irl unless stated, par 71):

65 D Willett

66 R Green (Aus)

67 S Webster, R Ramsay, R Fisher, S S P Chowrasia (Ind)

68 S Kjeldsen (Den), T Aiken (SA), J Kingston (SA), G Maybin, N Colsaerts (Bel), D Lee (NZ), L Donald, F Hed (Swe)

69 N Cheetham, D McGrane, C Shave, M Siem (Ger), S Strange (Aus), L Wen-Tang (Taiwan), R Gonzalez (Arg), R Rock, S Gallacher, A Noren (Swe), E Els (SA), J Donaldson

70 C Wood, C Schwartzel (SA), G McDowell, R Davies, D Lynn, P Lawrie, P Hanson (Swe), A Wall, G Boyd, R Finch, P Casey, M Brier (Aut), L Wen-chong (China), L Westwood

71 R Derksen (Neth), A Hansen (Den), O Wilson, M Manassero (It), P Hedblom (Swe), J Edfors (Swe), H Otto (SA), P Waring, D Howell, N Dougherty, P Broadhurst, J Morrison, D Drysdale, P Lawrie, J Lucquin (Fr), G Bourdy (Fr), P McGinley, P Harrington, M Watson (US)

72 F Molinari (It), S Hansen (Den), R Echenique (Arg), O Fisher, S Lowry, N Fasth (Swe), A Canizares (Sp), E Molinari (It), C Cevaer (Fr), P Price, M Lafeber (Ned), A Dodt (Aus), A Quiros (Sp), S Khan, R Jacquelin (Fr), B Lane, R McGowan

73 K Ferrie, S Dyson, G Storm, P Larrazabal (Sp), J Lima (Por), O Henningsson (Swe), R Cabrera Bello (Sp), P Martin (Sp), G Havret (Fr), M Fraser (Aus), H Stenson (Swe), C Nilsson (Swe), C Montgomerie, S Drummond, L Oosthuizen (SA), M Jimenez (Sp), M Foster

74 J Huldahl (Den), G Orr, N Seung-yul (S Kor), M Erlandsson (Swe), P Whiteford, S Benson, J Lara (Sp), R McIlroy, J Rose, D Dixon, C Nirat (Thail), S Little, T Levet (Fr)