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LONDON: Ernie Els is predicting a much lower winning score for the European Tour’s BMW PGA Championship beginning tomorrow, “double figures at least”, after more tweaks to the West Course at Wentworth Club over the last year.
The 12th hole has been changed back to a par-five this year, measuring 531 yards, a bank on the approach to the 15th has been flattened, a fringe has been grown on the right of the 17th to slow any errant shots down as they fall down the slope, and changes to the 18th include removing the big tree and the bunker on the right along with the raising of the fairway in the landing area.
And with good weather forecast for the week, Els is confident players will take advantage of more scoring opportunities and last year’s winning score of six under will be beaten – especially with a world-class field that includes the top three players in the rankings, Rory McIlroy, Luke Donald and Lee Westwood.
“The scoring is going to be better,” the big South African said. “I think 14, 16 under is going to be the winning score. Hopefully we will have more smiling faces from the players this year.”
On the 12th hole, Els said: “The green was designed for a par five. It’s quite a severe green.” He felt the bank on the 15th just as you approach the green over a bunker was “unfair” for players going in with a long iron and required a flatter area so the ball could pitch and stay on the green.
And with regard to the 18th, which now also features a collar of rough around the green to make it less likely that a ball will spin into the water as happened in the play-off last year, he said: “I think the guys can really drive the ball down the right side and come in with almost a middle iron now. It’s going to play a lot easier. There’s more room for you to shape the ball right to left into the green. So it’s going to play almost like a long par four now.
“I think it is going to be a great finishing hole again,” added the former world No1. “There’s water, and so there’s risk and reward. You can make an eagle there now, but also a six. You can bail-out and make a five out of the bunkers or up and down it for birdie. So I think it is a great finishing hole again now.”
There are no less than 13 South Africans in the field – Els, Charl Schwartzel, Retief Goosen, Branden Grace, Jbe Kruger, Thomas Aiken, Hennie Otto, Garth Mulroy, George Coetzee, James Kingston, Richard Sterne, Jaco van Zyl and Keith Horne.
Els is drawn with McIlroy and Scot Martin Laird for the first two rounds. – European Tour