Wentworth worthy of major status
Forget the Players' Championship, the real 'fifth' major is the PGA Championship at Wentworth this week. That's according to Lee Westwood, at any rate.
The European Tour's flagship event outside the Open this year boasts a field including all four major champions - Graeme McDowell, Louis Oosthuizen, Martin Kaymer and Charl Schwartzel - and seven of the world's top 10 players.
Only the Americans are missing. But, as the argument goes, with a field like this, who needs them?
Lee Westwood is among those in action at Wentworth this week. Pic: Getty
Not Westwood, anyway. "The BMW PGA Championship is the biggest title that I play for outside of the majors. It's bigger than the World Golf Championships because of what the tournament represents for us as the European Tour," the world number one said recently.
Westwood's pride for his Tour is commendable, and who are we to argue with a man who has represented Europe on seven Ryder Cup teams?
But without delving into the relative merits of the European and US circuits, you'd have to say that an event without the Americans (of whom there are currently 18 in the world's top 50) is somewhat pushing its claims to be the 'fifth' major, just as the Players' would be, shorn of the international contingent.
"America is a big place but world golf is getting stronger," said Masters champion Schwartzel. "And the world is slightly bigger."
Westwood, who missed the Players' this year, didn't actually say the PGA Championship is the 'fifth' major - that bit of spin was added by the Tour itself, a playful dig, perhaps, at the American media-induced moniker of the Players'.
And anyway, how do you define a major? Well, we've talked about the field, so next is the cash on offer, not that the best players really need to be tapping their pockets before deciding whether to take part or not. The PGA Championship has a purse of about £4m, compared to about £5.8m for the Players'.
So the PGA event lags well behind the majors and lucrative World Golf Championships and is not even the highest on the European Tour. That honour goes to the £4.6m up for grabs at the season-ending Dubai World Championship. The Byron Nelson Championship in the US this week also carries a pot of about £4m, by the way.
History is another string to the major bow. Even the youngest of the majors, the Masters, goes back to 1934. The PGA Championship began in 1955 and has been at Wentworth full time since 1984.
It's been won by all the greats of European golf, too - Peter Alliss, Bernard Gallacher, Tony Jacklin, Seve, Faldo, Woosnam, Langer, Montgomerie to name a few, even if some recent winners (Andrew Oldcorn anyone?) haven't exactly been household names. (How the sponsors would love a big-name winner this year to back up the hype).
There are other ingredients to a major, such as the quality and difficulty of the course.
The sumptuous West Course was designed by the renowned architect Harry Colt and opened in 1926.
But despite its top tournament heritage - it also hosted the World Matchplay from 1964 to 2007 - it has often received criticism, particularly from Padraig Harrington and Ian Poulter, notably because of the quality of the greens. Then again, there are plenty, including Rory McIlroy, who don't like the TPC Sawgrass layout, venue for the Players' Championship.
Wentworth has been tweaked since 2005 and underwent a major revamp for 2010, including the relaying of all 18 greens, to bring it up to date.
Last year's Ernie Els-led changes - chiefly a redesigned 18th green with water in front - caused much consternation amid accusations of losing the spirit and "Americanising" the West Course. This year the 18th has been tweaked some more, with the putting surface lowered and the depth extended to encourage more players to once again go for the green in two.
But majors are more than the sum of their parts and these days can't be manufactured from scratch. It's almost as if the ancient recipe has been thrown away.
"You win normal events, it's fantastic, but next week someone else will win and people forget very quickly. But with a major, no one forgets," added Schwartzel.
Westwood's allegiance to the Tour - and similar support from other US-based Europeans - comes at a time when European golf is riding high and feeling very together.
Europe holds the Ryder Cup, all four major champions are members of the Tour, and the world's top three players are all European. Then there's the collective camaraderie felt by the death of Ballesteros.
The "Ole! Seve" pro-am at Wentworth on Monday raised £618,000 for the Seve Ballesteros Foundation, while the Spaniard's great Ryder Cup partner Jose Maria Olazabal urged the elite to honour September's Seve Trophy, the biennial matchplay tussle between Great Britain and Ireland and continental Europe.
"I think it will be very important, to be honest, that every two years, with the support of the big names, we make it really big," said Olazabal, who wants the players this week to wear navy blue on Friday in honour of his compatriot's outfit in his most famous pose.
The Tour's solidarity, though, will be tested - it clashes with the third of the US Tour's Fed Ex Cup play-off series events, the BMW Championship at Cog Hill near Chicago.
But back to Wentworth. Ultimately, the PGA Championship shouldn't worry about trying to be a minor major. Outside the Open it's the showpiece for "our" tour. It's not big and brash but that's how we do things over here. European golf is thriving. Winning at Wentworth will be a major coup in itself.