It is nearing the end of May and that means that it is time for Wentworth and the BMW Championship, the players’ Flagship event. As you all know this has not been my favourite event over the years, In fact I have taken this week off a couple of times in the past. As a course I like Wentworth a lot, the problem that I have here is the greens. I find them very hard to read them and they don’t take a full field walking over them very well. It is a problem that I have; but there are a lot of players that don’t seem to have it. However there will be one person at the end of the week that will be very happy with them!
This year the big talking point is all about Ernie Els’ changes to the course. He has added over 200 yards to the course and also a number of new bunkers. Personally I think the changes are very good and that they really add to the course; it certainly makes it a lot tougher. In practice the course has been playing particularly long as there has been a lot of rain and the new tees are being used. By the time the tournament starts it probably won’t seem as long as they will move up a few of the tees and hopefully the course will dry out a little.
This is a course that I have played numerous times during my career, as there have been two events here annually since I have been a professional; the BMW Championship and the HSBC Matchplay. I have played in these events and had mixed results over the years. In the Matchplay I have made it to the final once and the semi-finals a few times and in the BMW Championship my best finish over the years is 11th. Even though I know the course very well I arrived here on Tuesday afternoon so as to get a few holes played prior to the pro-am. Last year I only played the pro-am but this year with the changes that have been made to the course I wanted to at least play nine holes on Tuesday. Before I played I did a bit of practice with Bob, as I wanted him to have a look at me to make sure that the wind last week didn’t mess anything up. He was happy with how I was swinging it, which was good.
Unfortunately the weather is not much better than last week; there were heavy showers all day which made playing conditions quite tough. I played nine holes on my own in the evening so as to see what all the fuss was about. Wednesday was spent doing a bit of practice and then playing the pro-am, as I have tried to take it easy so far this week as last week was very tiring. After the pro-am finished I spent 15 minutes practicing my putting and then headed back to the hotel.
This is probably the most well known course on the European Tour schedule. Everyone has been watching golf being played here for over 20 years and they feel that they know it as well as their own course. There is no doubt that this is a fantastic track and in my opinion the changes that Ernie has made to it have improved it. It has brought it back to what it was supposed to be when it was first designed. It will play a lot longer than ever before but it is now only what we play on a normal basis these days anyway. It measures just over 7,300 yards now and most of the holes have been changed somehow, be it by adding some length or adding a bunker here or there. Some of the most notable changes are on the 1st, 3rd, 4th, 17th and 18th.
On the first there are new bunkers on either side of the fairway which makes it a much tougher drive as you can’t really reach the green if you hit it in there. The 3rd has been lengthened to 464 yards, all up hill which adds over 10 yards to it; on Tuesday it was playing a driver and a 3 wood! The 4th, the par 5, which was well in range before and could play anything down to a 7 iron second shot, has also been lengthened so that now it takes two good hit to get there. The change that I think will be most notable to the spectators is the 17th. Before it was very reachable par 5 that you had to hit a big hook from the tee to hit the fairway, whereas now it is the second shot that you need to hook and is probably out of range unless it is playing downwind. The 18th has also been lengthened but it hasn’t really changed the hole that much.
I definitely feel that the changes are for the good. It will certainly make scoring tougher and put more emphasis on scrambling, as there will be more greens missed, as it is playing longer.
This is our flagship event on the European Tour and as a result every player would really love to win this event and I am no different. As a player you want to win as many of the big events as possible and this is definitely a big tournament, however the problem for me is that I have consistently struggled on these greens at this time of year which makes it hard for me to see myself winning. Historically the scoring has been very low here with scores of up to 19 under par winning, which baffles me as I consider this a tough course and I just can’t see that sort of scoring. Although with the changes this year and the weather conditions it is hard to see such low scoring, it could easily be in the single digits under par. If this is the case then it means that more people have a chance. For me, as ever I am looking to get myself into contention on Sunday and hopefully not having my usual wait on Friday to see if I make the cut here. If I can get myself into contention and stay patient then you never know what will happen.
Padraigs Tour Diary...
The BMW Championship was also blighted with poor weather last week, which from an Irish point of view was nice, as people won’t think that it is just in Ireland that we get terrible weather! We played the four rounds with lift, clean and place as the course was very wet; this certainly helped with the scoring but even with that I find it hard to see Howell’s winning score, he must really have played great. I was very happy with my play for the four days and felt that seven under was a good score. It left me in a tie for sixth which was nice as I had played well the two previous weeks and just missed out on finishing in the top ten.
The course stood up very well to the heavy rain. They had to move some tee boxes forward for the first couple of days but after that we played the full length. With the changes that Ernie has made to the course he has really turned it into one of the best courses that we play all year. For me if they redid the greens then it would be one of the best courses in the world, this is a great example of why the greens need to be relaid. The heavy rain and the amount of people walking on the greens meant that they were very bumpy and as a result it was hard to hole putts. Even knocking in short putts was very stressful.
This was my best ever performance around Wentworth in a stroke play event. Prior to this my 11th place finish last year was my best, but maybe I am getting more used to the course. This year I broke par in three of my rounds and really should have done so in my first round where I three putted the final green for a par to shoot 72. I was very happy with my game and I felt that I hit a lot of good shots. I find this a really tough course, so anytime that I finish under par for the tournament I am happy. I know that I finished well behind David but it was definitely his week; I can certainly see where I could have picked up a few shots that would have helped me finish a bit higher up the leader board but ten shots would really be a struggle. I think the most enjoyable part of the week was that I managed to finish well on Sunday to get myself into a tie for sixth. I didn’t play my best on the front nine to be out in one over for the round and then I three putted the 11th to drop another shot and be 4 under for the tournament. But over the last 5 holes I made up three shots to get myself back to 7 under; birdies on the 14th, 17th and 18th secured this for me. I should have birdied the 16th where I missed from 4 feet and also I missed a good chance for eagle on the 17th, so even in the last few holes it could have been much better.
This is a tournament that I have struggled at so much over the years but in the past couple of years I have performed much better. The course changes that have been made really helped me a lot this year as I felt that they really improved the course. That and trying to convince myself not to worry about the greens has helped. I know that I am going to miss putts because of the way they run but then so is everyone.
I am very happy with my game and I am getting much more comfortable with my putting. I have a week off now before I head to the States to defend my Barclays Classic title and then play the US Open and the Booz Allen Classic. After these three in the states I am back for the French Open and the European Open. It is a big run of events as it takes in the second major and two very big events in Europe. If I can keep playing the way I am at the moment then I know that it won’t be long before I am back in the winners’ enclosure.
My performances over the last few weeks have certainly shown me that it is only a couple of small things that need to change and then I am will be contending again. In the British Masters and the Irish Open I finished five shots behind the winner and really felt that I could have been much better than where I finished. Hopefully over the next few weeks I can get myself into contention a few times.