Els hopes players' complaints about Wentworth redesign finally over

Ernie Els
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Under Ernie Els' supervision, the 12th hole on the West Course at Wentworth has reverted to a par 5 and the fringe rough around the final green has been changed to make it less likely that balls will spin into the water.
PA Sport

Series: European Tour

Published: Tuesday, May 22, 2012 | 6:49 p.m.

WENTWORTH, England -- Ernie Els hopes the moaning and groaning about his new-look West Course at Wentworth becomes a thing of the past at the European Tour's prestigious BMW PGA Championship this week.

Paul Casey, Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood have been among the critics since Els toughened up the course two years ago.

Casey called it "a grind," while Poulter said after a second-round 74 completed with a double-bogey 7 last May: "You're watching, you tell me, is it fun?"

Further changes have been made since, among them the 12th hole reverting to a par 5 and the fringe rough around the final green making it less likely that balls will spin into the water -- as happened to Westwood as he lost a playoff and the world No. 1 spot to Luke Donald last year.

"That wasn't the plan," said Els. "He didn't hit that bad a shot. The penalty was quite severe. Criticism is always tough to take, but if it's granted in the right way I'm fine with it.

"The way it was put forward the first year was a little childish (he hated the fact it was played out in the media rather than in private), but hopefully we'll have more smiling faces from the players this year," he explained. "You make changes on a great course like the West Course, people are going to not like it.

"That's part of what we do as designers, but I think we've passed that bridge," he added. "It's history and we've patched things up with all the players. You're not going to please everybody, but I don't believe everybody should criticise just because there's changes."

Although it was bathed in sunshine on Tuesday, the condition of the course has been the main concern in recent weeks.

Head Greenkeeper Chris Kennedy described it as "the most difficult build-up I have ever known," and added that "March was the warmest and driest in 120 years and April was the wettest on record.

"Now May is shaping up to be the coldest in decades," he said. "We've had hail, white frosts and driving rain. It's been so hard getting quality grass to grow."

Casey will be happy just to be part of the action after pulling out of The Players Championship two weeks ago and then missing last week's Volvo World Match Play Championship in Spain. The former world No. 3 felt more pain in the shoulder he dislocated snowboarding on Christmas Eve and last week fell out of the game's top 50.

Casey was practicing on Tuesday afternoon and will give himself a more strenuous test in the pre-tournament pro-am.

"I'll go it full whack then," he said. "I've got to get my brain to trust that I can't hurt it any more. It's amazing how the brain controls the body almost involuntarily. I'm frustrated, but I'm not stressed about it because I believe I can still play better golf than I ever have before."

Alongside him on the range was current No. 3 Westwood, sporting a beard for the first time.

"I just got bored," Westwood said. "It might stay for a while -- or it might not."

The other change is his caddie, New Zealander Michael "Sponge" Waite this week becoming the stand-in for regular Billy Foster, who is expected to be out all summer following surgery on a knee injured in a football kickabout three weeks ago.

On his view of Wentworth now, Westwood said: "Ernie's done a good job on toughening it up. It's a great championship test -- and a very fair one."

Westwood will play the first two rounds with Graeme McDowell and Thomas Bjorn, just ahead of Els, world No. 1 Rory McIlroy and Scotland’s Martin Laird.

Defending champion Donald is grouped with Justin Rose and Alvaro Quiros.