On course for tricky times as Els adds bite to Wentworth

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The Independent Online

When you are blessed with the size and stature of Ernie Els you can be fairly certain that when you are in earshot the boys are not going to be giving you too much flak. So it was yesterday, as the European Tour arrived at its flagship event and studied the changes the South African has made to Wentworth.

Yes, they were fairly queuing up to slap the world No 6 on the back, even if, in truth, a few really wanted to slap him around the chops. In short, Els has added some teeth to the West Course which runs directly outside his back window on the exclusive Surrey estate. And while he was at it, he added some vampire fangs as well.

Some 310 yards - a normal par four to you and me - and 30 bunkers - a normal trip to hell for you and me - have been added as Els and the course superintendent, Chris Kennedy, have taken a knife, spade and tape measure to Harry Colt's legendary layout. Only one hole - the short 14th - has escaped the bulldozers and among the most obvious differences are the 17th - now an eye-squinting 610 yards - and the sixth, which boasts a new tee taken so far back it is now on the East Course.

Be sure, last year's winning score of 15-under will require something superhuman to emulate.

Els, of course, is one of the few professionals in the field - together with perhaps Luke Donald and Adam Scott - capable of matching Angel Cabrera's 2005 winning total and the cynical on the driving range were whispering that the changes may best suit a certain South African in the BMW Championship which gets under way tomorrow.

One of the great mysteries is how Els, a six-times winner of the World Match Play Championship, which is also held over the West Course, has yet to win the tournament still universally referred to as the PGA. "Funnily enough, this is Ernie's best chance," said one professional. But if the chorus of approval from the media tent was anything to go by, the disgruntled are in a minority.

"The changes have been really well done and everything is good," said Cabrera.

"The alterations are fair," commented Jose Maria Olazabal. "Ernie's done a good job," waxed David Howell. Michael Campbell, the reigning US Open champion, emphasised that Els has succeeded in sculpting the means to one of his ends: to sort out the European drought of seven years without a major victory.

"I know I could be getting some stick from the guys for what's been done, but at the end of the day they will be better equipped for the majors," admitted Els. "Anybody going to the US Open in June will have a much better feel of what they are going into. Miss a shot there and you're either in rough, a bunker or in danger of three-putting. Everyone knows how much I love this place and it was never our intention to change the character of the golf course. That would have been a crime."