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Wentworth worthy of major status

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Rob Hodgetts | 06:48 UK time, Wednesday, 25 May 2011

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?

World number one Lee Westwood will be in action at Wentworth

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.

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Best shots from final round of 2010 PGA Championship (UK users only)

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.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Indeed. And the Indonesian Open is worthy of major status as well. It had a great field led by the world number one.

  • Comment number 2.

    Whilst the course (and greens) get criticism the class of the venue is second to none - It is a place that exudes history and the staff there are truly first class.

  • Comment number 3.

    '...money isn't everything - if it was, more Americans would be stumping up for a transatlantic flight and eschewing the 'miserly' $1.17m available at the Byron Nelson Championship this week.'

    Sorry Rob, mistake spotted.

    The first prize at the Byron Nelson might be $1.17m, but the prize fund (which is the figure you quoted for The Players and for the BMW PGA) is a rather more generous $6.5m - which is just over £4m.

    So actually, prize money isn't an issue at all - the funds are the pretty much the same for the events on both the PGA and European Tours this week.

    A better case could be made for arguing the BMW PGA is a 'near major' by comparing world ranking points. The BMW PGA, as the premier event on the European Tour offers 64 points to its winner (compared to 100 for a major and 80 for The Players), this is more than the Byron Nelson, which offers 44.

    I've also got a feeling members of the PGA Tour, who aren't joint members of both tours, might need a special exemption to skip a PGA event and play on the European Tour, which might explain for the lack of US attendees, though I am not 100% sure.

  • Comment number 4.

    Also, if we are talking about history - the Byron Nelson Championship began in 1926 (as the Dallas Open), which is nearly thirty years before the BMW PGA.

    So it would seem to me that all the BMW has in its favour is 20 additional world ranking points for the winner (the difference will obviously get closer for lower finishes). Which isn't a lot really. If you're an American golfer you might think 'why bother with the long flight and getting used to a non-US style course, I'll stay in the US.' Reckon their sponsors would make them go to Wentworth if they thought the exposure made it worth it too.

  • Comment number 5.

    Snozzbert12 - good spot and fair point. I obviously jotted the wrong number down. So there would have to be more than just wads of cash to entice them. Most of these boys have got cash coming out of their ears anyway.

  • Comment number 6.

    Hopefully Peter Alliss, Ewen Murray et al will be making similar snide comments regarding to lack of US players at Wentworth, as did Jonny Miller, Butch Harman and a bunch of others over the audacity of Lee Westwood and Rory McIllroy over their refusal to take part at Sawgrass.

    Take the Americans out of the US, and by and large, with a few exceptions, they are well outside their comfort zone. Europeans however are expected to make the journey to the Good Ole USA if they are to be truly respected as top players. It just ain't fair, but then again the world never was fair!

  • Comment number 7.

    The balance of power has well and truly shifted east-wards.

    I'll be at Wentworth at the weekend, and don't give two hoots that it will be bereft of Americans. I'll probably make a bee-line to see John Daly, but you just can't argue with the quality of the field this week. All four major winners !! Quite incredible for a European Tour event.

    No, the world of golf needs the Eureopeans more than it needs the Americans right now, and typically the Americans are none-too-happy about it.

    PS The Patriot's post is typical hogwash from a US-based (?) poster. The rules for ranking are the same here than in your wonderful nation. Lee Westwood is Number 1 because he has been the most consistent for the past 2 years. Get over it.

  • Comment number 8.

    @ATNS

    'Take the Americans out of the US, and by and large, with a few exceptions, they are well outside their comfort zone.'

    That isn't really true.

    Of the last twenty Open Championships, eleven have been won by American golfers. Those eleven victories were by eight different golfers.

    The same time span has seen Europeans win their 'home' major four times, by three different players.

    Simply (and perhaps rather generally) put, PGA Tour events attract more money from sponsors (which is at least partly down to TV coverage), which transfers to higher prize money, stronger fields and more ranking points at the events. Hence players like Luke Donald feel that they have to be members of both tours. Its a self-supporting cycle.

    I think its good to see the like of Westwood supporting the Tour that they made their names on and that helped them grow as golfers, and if that trend continues the gap between the two tours may even out, but we are a way off that yet I think.

    It would be interesting to see which tournament has more of the world's top 50 competing - The Players or the BMW PGA. I reckon it's the former (although am not 100% sure).

  • Comment number 9.

    Watching the Golf channel over here in the US is hilarious ( indeed reading most of the golf press)...they just cannot/will not accept the fact that non US golf and European golf is at the moment much stronger.Endless sour grapes and whining.The fact is that the US golfer is rewarded far too much for mediocrity...their comfort zone way too high and as another contributor has already said they won't travel abroad too often.If you want to be a world class golfer, you must travel and win tournaments around the world.Time for many American golfers to show a bit more humility and backbone........

  • Comment number 10.

    If you want to be seen as a world class golfer you need to win majors (and to a lesser extent WGC events). That's it. Playing around the world doesn't come into it. Phil Mickelson's record at the Open is pretty poor, but no-one would argue he isn't a 'world class golfer'.

    There are at the moment two global events that US golfers think it is worth the trip for - the Open and the WGC Champions in China. As I tried to point out earlier, the benefits to US golfers of playing in the BMW PGA rather than the Byron Nelson event this week are pretty negligible.

    I'm not saying that this is a 'good thing', I'd like golf to be a more global game, but that is the way it is.

    I don't think its a case of US golfers lacking backbone and humility, as things stand there simply isn't the incentive for them to play in Europe. Why play a European Tour event when you can make more cash, accrue more ranking points and avoid long travel if you stay in the US?

    Unless there is a WGC event in Europe (which there really should be), I can't see this situation changing.

  • Comment number 11.

    The BMW PGA or another European tour event should be the 5th Major. US has three of the top four events but the game has now grown and the PGA has been caught up in terms of quality players by the European Tour. In fact the European Tour covers more of the planet than just europe!

  • Comment number 12.

    Well for me, the 'fifth major' is the Accenture (but I'm happy with only having the four). Hey, and I think this is the very first time I've seen Peter Alliss (!) described as a 'great of European golf'; just shows how far we've come, I guess.

  • Comment number 13.

    Snozzbert12: Of course you're right about the Open, but it has always seemed to me that the field is packed with so many US Tour players that the mathematical odds on US player winning have always been quite good.

    Perhaps the European Tour doesn't play enough links courses, and many of the American contingent hone their skills especially to tackle the likes of Sandwich and Troon.

    Personally I prefer to watch the European Tour, partly because the US host broadcasters and their endless commercial breaks and blimp spotting make the golf virtually unviewable, but mostly because many of the European Tour courses just seem more challenging.

  • Comment number 14.

    7. At 13:14 25th May 2011, Breadman wrote:

    PS The Patriot's post is typical hogwash from a US-based (?) poster. The rules for ranking are the same here than in your wonderful nation. Lee Westwood is Number 1 because he has been the most consistent for the past 2 years. Get over it.

    -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Breadman,

    I am English. Let me know if you want proof. It is your very post that is "typical".

    Lee Westwood and consistency? Please let us all know his record in the past 10 strokeplay events, not including his wins in Indonesia and SK (with world-class fields). Taking into account the past 2 years, how many wins did Westwood have in 2009, 2010 and 2011 (feel free to include the 'Mickey Mouse' tournaments in 2011)

    Luke Donald? Now, that's a different story......

  • Comment number 15.

    #11 daveh,

    What about an Asian major?

  • Comment number 16.

    Consider the fact that the Americans would have to pay 50% tax on their winnings. Then factor in caddy fees, travel & expenses. OWGR points are marginally different. You'd start to wonder why it's worth it for them?

  • Comment number 17.

    Good article, incredible to think an event in Europe is hosting all four major winners outwith the Open.

  • Comment number 18.

    I think there are a few points to consider. Most of the top players on the European tour are also members of the US tour. How many of the top Americans are members of the European tour? So the European PGA has no meaning to them. There is also the factor of FedEx points. If they were on offer, I think many more Americans would make the trip. What is needed is some good old co-operation between the 2 tours. At the moment the European tour doesn't need the Americans because they are frankly at a lower standard but wouldn't it be great to see them here?

  • Comment number 19.

    As a fan of golf I find the 'Europe v America' stuff completely overdone. American golfers have graced the game and graced these shores enough for all of us to appreciate their skills over the years, the brilliant Ryder cup match of last year being the most recent. I love watching the new crop of stateside golfers such as Watson, Johnson, Fowler and no one can argue that Mickelson & Woods have provided fantastic entertainment this last decade. These guys can play where and when they want as far as I'm concerned. Lee can and should promote the virtues of Wentworth and Johnny Miller can chunter about the Players - but as for them being the '5th Major' - there isn't one.
    PS In defence of Butch Harmon he had to put up with cringing levels of Europhilia on Sky during the Masters but still managed to sound genuinely enthusiastic about McIlroy and Donald. Miller is their Alliss. Do we want him to change? As for Faldo 'majors are the only thing that count' - the irony is that he won most of them/ was given them by playing the kind of consistent Montgomerie/ Westwood/ Donald style golf that he now decries.

  • Comment number 20.

    #19,

    Totally agree with you that it's overdone, especially the fact that us English will use "English", "British" and "European" when it suits us :p

    This article makes no sense. The TPC at Sawgrass is a great tourney, as is the PGA at Wentworth. Players on the USPGA love the TPC as it's one of the very few (if not the only) family-oriented tournament - most players have their family around for this event. Also, the Stadium course really is that - it gives the feeling of being in a stadium.

    Similarly, the PGA is a great tournament, and Wentworth is a great course.

    It's not so much about Americans not being here, etc. The opening paragraphs of this article really are unbelievable! There are tournaments in the US in which the current major holders all participate, etc.

    Westwood has his opinions. We all do. But make no mistake. These guys will trade everything for major wins. Just ask Monty. Faldo is spot on!

  • Comment number 21.

    It is obviously nice to have the field made up of top platers from all over the world, but the Americans are not known as travellers, are they?

    Very few Americans have ever played outside of their tour, other than The Open, and the ones who have do so very infrequently.

    This is, to my mind, makes players like Gary Player & Ernie Els so special. If you forget about ranking points, is a true "World" player ot one who competes and wins all over the World?

    I dont know if it is arrogance, fear of failure, or simply a dilike for travel, but for the most part American players rate "their" tours the best and see no reason to participate elsewhere. However, this is the same country which developed their own games (baseball, American "Football", basketball) to claim they are the best around, rather than taking on the rest of the world in sports such as cricket and association football. A fear of failure? Who knows.

    Would be nice to have the Americans, but with most of the top players in the rankings still being there it does not matter all that much really.

  • Comment number 22.

    'Course, the organisers and sponsors of next week's Wales Open might well wonder, "Where are the Europeans"? A top 50 turnout of McDowell, Jimenez, Hansen and Hanson is pathetic, and none of the European Tour's leading South Africans either.

    It's just not in the Americans self-interest for them to compete at Wentworth any more than, apparently, it's in the self interest of Donald, Kaymer, Westwood, Casey, McIlroy, Poulter, Molinaris, Rose, Karlsson, etc, etc, etc to play in Wales.

    The anti-American undertone prevalent in the article and most of the comments is unfortunate, perhaps exemplified by Rob Hodgetts' failure to correct his "miserly" comment and prizemoney misquote because it doesn't suit the theme of his piece.

  • Comment number 23.

    Ah ha! Miserly no longer!!

  • Comment number 24.

    In my opinion there are only 2 majors - The Open and The Masters. The other 2 are "minors" invented by American hype.

  • Comment number 25.

    Hi Ian,

    In my opinion, it's abysmal that there hasn't been an English major winner since Faldo.

  • Comment number 26.

    This topic is not going away anytime soon. As a Scot currently living in Canada the simmering resentment from the American golfing fraternity towards certain individuals having the gall to play there golf not solely in the States is growing into something more nasty by the week as the dawning reality of American golf no longer being no 1 starts to hit home.

    I sat and watched the build up to the players championship a few weeks ago on the golf channel and was amazed with what i heard. Jonny Millar was very emotional when the subject of the missing pair of Westwood and Mcilroy came up " I ve never heard a overseas player thank the United States for making him a millionaire". Poor Frank Nobilo didn t know where to look!!

    As soon as he said that i thought that it was particularly hard on LW as he has never based himself in the States fulltime or used the us tour as a launching pad for his career. He is an Englishman who has stayed loyal to the European tour which has been so good to him.

    Mcilroy responded on twitter to millers comments and the dozens of other snide remarks right away saying it was his right to play anywhere he wanted as he was self employed as a golfer, now Westwood has come out with comments saying our PGA is his 5th major. It would make sense that it is but the Americans wont see it that way as they only see things one way, the American way.

    What was even more telling was Peter Jacobson after Miller saying "who would have thought in February that a tournament in DUBAI would EVER draw a stronger field than the Bob Hope classic!!" Now i may have this wrong but isnt the Bob Hope classic a pro-am over 5 rounds and 3 diffrent courses?! It maybe a stalward of the US tour schedule but its not a great tournament or particularly important however Jacobson genuinly couldn t believe or understand why anyone in there right mind would want to play in Dubai when you could play in the Bob Hope.

    For years the US tour has been the strongest tour in everyway but not now. The Americans are desperate for Ricky Fowler to become the new american superstar. He is clearly a fantastic prospect but is still yet to win yet the expectations are huge and completely over the top.

    15-20 years ago the best players in the world were Faldo, Price and Norman. They may have all been non americans but they all played in the states fulltime and there were plenty of great american players too Couples Pavin Stewart Azinger and Love were all superb when they were fit and hungry%2

  • Comment number 27.

    fjmy,
    You're spot on, especially with Jacobsen and Miller (Pepper and Rolfing are no better) who act as if they never owned a passport.
    But it doesn't mean Europeans should follow their naive path.
    Best thing for the BMW PGA Championship will be the path of continuous improvement, making sure that purse, field (no Aussies here to speak of either remember) and course get better every year. The owgr points earned will increase and the tournament will get everyone's attention.
    Remember, the Americans turned out in numbers at last year's HSBC in China but only Woods chose to make any effort, the only US player in the top twenty. If they just turn up for guaranteed money, everyone is better off without them.

  • Comment number 28.

    Wentworth...5th major
    Peter Alliss...one of Europe's 'all time greats'

    now I've heard it all!

    here's a challenge - ask the world's top 100 golfers which event they would most want to win outside the 'Big 4' and anybody that nominates the Wentworth PGA is either a liar or a previous winner!

    get real, guys - like it or not, the USA is where it's at - don't care how many 'major' winners are at Wentworth this week...without the yanks, this event must be consigned to 'secondary' status

    Peter Alliss...just can't get over that!

  • Comment number 29.

    Loving how my mischievous inclusion of Peter Alliss has been picked up. Heh heh. Some good points, Fjmy and Kwini. One idea being championed by my 5 live colleague Iain Carter would be to make the Players & the PGA WGC events. Then they'd all turn up.

  • Comment number 30.

    Don't think The Players would want WGC status (it would be seen as a bit of a step down). It already offers more money, more ranking points and has a higher profile than the WGC events anyway (perhaps with the exception of the match play).

    Do we really want six WGC events? I think four is enough, but I'd like to see one of those four in Europe. But that's a simple case of one of the two US-based stroke play events moving courses - something that has happened before.

    The best thing the BMW PGA can do is to continue to grow. First things first, it needs to be (as The Players is - which is essentially its equivalent on the PGA Tour) seen as unequivocally the biggest event on either tour the week it is played. That's not really the case at the moment.

    If they build it, they will come.

    [I'll get my coat]

  • Comment number 31.

    If the Wgc events are meant to be the biggest events in golf outside the majors the players and our PGA should be Wgc events not doral which is effectively a warm up for Augusta. Get the best players around the world around the world! Saying that what you are them creating is what Greg norman was trying to do 15 years ago by creating a world tour where just the best play. Sounds great but of your not included it's increasingly hard to get in. As a struggling player myself I take great encouragement from seeing a unknown or under dog perform above expectations and beat an established player.

  • Comment number 32.

    "BBC Sport will bring you comprehensive coverage of the PGA Championship, the flagship event of the European Tour"
    This is the quote on the BBC sport web page, but it is just not true! With so little BBC golf why can't the BBC give us better live coverage? Why no HD, or early "red button" coverage? I do enjoy Peter Allis and the BBC team, but it's not good enough these days of internet access and interactive services. If the BBC can't do the job needed, it should let Sky do it all. Very sad

  • Comment number 33.

    Couldn't agree more with Meltkye's comment - earlier checked 6 red button channels, and found F1 on 4 of them!! Now they're having a long chat about Seve, and the world rankings, and the changes to the course - it's nearly 3.00 p.m and still not seen a shot... this is unbelievable, let's see some golf PLEASE, or give it all to Sky - at least they like the game, and cover it properly.
    Sad to see the BBC in this state.

  • Comment number 34.

    Lot's of talk about how "unfair" the course is. They are professional golfers. Donald so far this season has earned about £1500 a shot!! Quit the whinging and get on with it. (Don't hear you complaining about Augusta - is that because you won't be invited back?)

  • Comment number 35.

    Spot on Meltkye/johnno however, not everyone can afford Sky. Also, do you really want to listen to American commentary on some events?

  • Comment number 36.

    Fair point re. Sky and the cost, but it really gets annoying when F1 gets blanket coverage on the red button i.e qualifying/live leaderboard/vintage race etc all at the same time. BBC have the cameras/staff already at Wentworth, so why don't they give the option? You can understand why the European Tour is keen on Sky, when BBC have a chance to cover golf, it seems like they don't care, unless its the Open. I'm ranting now...

  • Comment number 37.

    I have to agree that the delayed start of the BBC coverage on Saturday was extremely disappointing, especially given the existence of the red button technology.

    As for the tournament, for years both the event and the course were overrated, with the par 5 12th (now a par 4), 17th and 18th holes giving up far too many birdies and eagles. I think Els has done a fantastic job in toughening up the course in a 'fair' way (apart from the 18th which is still problematic). This year we have a potentially thrilling final day and as the years go by I'm sure it will naturally gain the prestige and history it took for granted for too many years.

  • Comment number 38.

    The course is great, the coverage and commentary are great but who has decided that we want background music during the replays of earlier strokes or coverage? Madness, there is already too much music during plays and documentaries; sport doesn't need music and golf least of all!

  • Comment number 39.

    I was listening to some American coverage. The commentator said "It doesn't matter who is first or 2nd in the rankings" (well it wouldn't would it) Everyone is looking at who is 50th. Yes we know 50th is important and we know why as on this side of the pond, we do know our stuff. I think it's very important who is first and who is 2nd - especially when they are British. They just can't accept with grace that European golf is on a mission. In fact, their history books make no mention of their Ryder Cup losses.

  • Comment number 40.

    Much enjoying the PGA Tournament on television but am struggling to differentiate a bogey from a par on the scoreboard. ...the colours are not clear enough!

  • Comment number 41.

    The course changes are a disgrace. Another example of the R and A failing to deal with technology changes resulting in a classic course being ruined

  • Comment number 42.

    Great tournament, worthy winner, fantstic crowd, superb course. Spoiled by Peter Alliss droning on and on interminably about how little he likes the 18th. Once would have made the point; thirty times is just a bore. Time the BBC pensioned the negative old bore off, I'm afraid.

  • Comment number 43.

    Re. BBC coverage, this was the same for the Masters. It could just be that the Beeb had limited live telecast rights. Austerity measures, anyone?

  • Comment number 44.

    No. Westy is having a laugh!

  • Comment number 45.

    I went to the PGA on Friday, first time at Wentworth for many years. Whatever the arguments about playing the course, if they want it to be a serious 'major' venue they need to do something for spectators. The last six holes in particular are terrible, with narrow alleys between the fairways and the trees, and some pinch points (especially at the 14th green) that cause traffic jams.

    They may have overcooked the course changes, but it was really too easy before. I'm very glad however not to be a member, even off the normal tees it must be a couple of shots harder.

 

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