European Tour gearing up for BMW PGA

Lee Westwood, Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia

Next week marks one of the highlights of the European season. The BMW PGA Championship is the European Tour’s flagship event. The great and good of European golf will assemble to take on the redesigned West Course at Wentworth.

All the stops will be pulled out to make sure it lives up to its billing. The European Tour will be in its pomp, keen to put on a good show to prove that it’s a good rival to the PGA Tour.

Since it is a seminal moment in the European season, it’s a pretty good time to take stock of the season so far. Here are my observations on all things European.

Sawgrass comes to Surrey: Wentworth’s West used to be a quintessential English course. Harry Colt laid it out in the 1920s. Now it’s a little piece of America in the heart of Surrey. Ernie Els’ refurbishments cost £7 million. Every green and every bunker has been altered. The 18th has an artificial water hazard that wouldn’t look out of place at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. The only thing left of Colt’s original design is the routing. The changes have been made to keep Europe’s elite loyal to the tournament. It’ll be interesting to get their take next week.

A worry or a wait for Westwood: What does Westwood’s collapse in the final round of The Players say about his chances of winning a major? Should we be worried on this side of the pond, or are we just in waiting until he joins the major club? He should have won the Open Championship last year but bogeyed three of the last four holes. He had a chance to win the Masters and watched as Phil Mickelson surged past him. That loss was easy to take because of Mickelson’s brilliant play. The Players was different. He lost that tournament. I hope we are just in waiting, and that The Players is not a sign of a lack of nerve as some are suggesting in private.

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Matteo Manassero at the Masters.

The future looks bright: If this season has proved anything, it is that the future of European golf looks to be in good hands. Rory McIlroy leads a bunch of talented kids who have shone in the first half of this season and last. Youngsters James Morrison, Rhys Davis, Richie Ramsay, Pablo Martin, Rafael Cabrera-Bello and Seung-yul Noh are winners so far. Throw in Matteo Manassero who is playing on a sponsor’s invitation and that’s a pretty good bunch of kids, without even mentioning a host of others.

Wherefore art thou Sergio?: Sergio Garcia will be conspicuous by his absence next week. I know it’s been suggested he take some time off, but he didn’t have to start by making the tour’s flagship event the beginning of his break. He says he doesn’t play more in Europe because of tax issues. That’s a poor excuse for a guy with as much money as he’s got. He should be playing. Last year he skipped the tournament but still turned up to play in the European Open at The London Club. But then he was on appearance money for that event. Players of his stature sometimes need to think about more than money.

No room for Volvo Match Play: BMW is sponsoring next week’s tournament, following rival car company Volvo’s lead. The latter company has poured millions into the tour over the years, including being title sponsor long before the tour turned to the Middle East. So it’s ridiculous that the Volvo World Match Play Championship won’t take place this year. Volvo held a pretty good tournament in Spain at the end of last year, and the event was tentatively scheduled for later this year. It appeared on the original Euro Tour schedule as TBC (to be confirmed). A source close to the event told me that it has been delayed until next year because they couldn’t agree on a suitable date. That’s poor. The tour should have been bending over backwards to facilitate Volvo after all the money they invested in European golf.

Needless to say, next week should be interesting.

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