Ernie Els: Wentworth is ready after all the complaints
Two years on from the controversy, redesign is 'pretty much there' ahead of PGA Championship
The sun was a welcome presence as Wentworth opened its doors to the British sporting summer, in the shape of tomorrow's BMW PGA Championship. Yet it was Ernie Els with a smile wider than the 18th green on the famous Surrey course that spread the greater warmth across the European Tour's flagship event.
The changes wrought two years ago by Els on the West Course, the Harry Colt masterpiece that laid the template for golfing real estate across the globe, has invited ridicule and wrath by the digger load. Ian Poulter, Paul Casey and Lee Westwood all piled in. They've taken the fun out of the place, raged Poulter. Westwood's expressed views when he spun his ball into the water after a risk-reward approach on the 18th, in the play-off he lost to Luke Donald last year, would make Roy "Chubby" Brown blush.
"You make changes on a great golf course like the West course, you know people are not going to like it. You are not going to please everybody, but I don't believe they should criticise just because changes were made," Els said.
"We like to criticise as players. This is our job, we take it seriously. I could see where they were coming from. Last year was better. The first year I didn't enjoy it much. But I don't think we will be getting many complaints this year. We are pretty much there."
The 12th was a monster par-four last year, but now reverts to a par-five. The 15th has had a bank removed at the front of the green, while a fringe is added at the 17th to prevent the ball galloping down the bank to the right.
As for the finishing hole, it has had its balance restored. A bunker has been removed down the right, the fairway raised and the collar around the green substantially enhanced. That ought to please Westwood.
"Spinning it into the water wasn't the plan. I think he knew he needed to drive at the flag. He did pitch it left of the flag but there was no collar. I think it had died away in the good weather. I always felt something unfortunate could happen. Unfortunately it happened to Lee. That shouldn't happen this year."
The joke about famous Belgians got another airing yesterday with the appearance of Nicolas Colsaerts, some £566,000 richer following Sunday's World Match Play triumph in Spain but still an anonymous figure at home.
Colsaerts' victory over Graeme McDowell thrust him on to the red carpet at Wentworth. The 29-year-old Belgian is an articulate and popular presence on the tour, and imparts athletic violence on a golf ball like few ever have. In the past 18 months, though, he has come to understand better the mysteries of this game.
He is being groomed for the higher stage. His first appointment here was with the Ryder Cup outfitters, a special tailoring service rolled out for those in line for selection at Medinah in September. Crashing the world's top 50 is a badge of honour, filling one of the 10 automatic Ryder Cup spots is a leap.
"I think I look good in a suit. There was a nice atmosphere in there. It is a special moment when you feel that you are considered," he said. But what will it mean for the Belgian celebrity count? "We have a bunch of world No 1s in table tennis, and we have always been pretty good at cycling, people like Eddy Merckx – but I don't think my CV is anywhere near any of those guys."
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