Brian KeoghComment

Irish challengers ready for Wentworth test

Brian KeoghComment

Ulster duo Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell fancy their chances of making a major impact in the €4.5m BMW PGA at new-look Wentworth.

The Irish stars loved what they saw when they played the revamped course West Course with Irish Open champion Shane Lowry yesterday.

And with Padraig Harrington excited by his return to the Burma Road track after a two-year absence, hopes are high of a first Irish win in the British PGA since Harry Bradshaw triumphed at Llandudno in 1958.

Determined to cement his place in the world’s top 50 this week and secure starts in the US Open and the Open, McDowell said: “I like it. I think it’s improvement. 

“It plays into my type of game, a US Open-style test rather than the something that suits the Angel Cabreras or Ernie Els’s. There’s not so much emphasis on bombers.

“Obviously Wentworth hasn’t been a good stomping ground for me over the years this is not Wentworth, this is Wentworth Mark II and I like what I see.

“They are all big weeks from now on but the cut off for the US Open and the Open is next Monday and I’m 50th in the world now so I need a decent performance.” 

All 18 greens have been relaid by Els’ design team in a €7.5m renovation that makes the course play tougher than ever.

The biggest change has been made to the par-five 18th, which is now protected by a water-filled ditch that prevents all but the biggest hitters from going for it in two.

McIlroy and McDowell both took it on yesterday and while the Holywood star went through the back with a five wood, GMac hit a three-wood to 10-feet.

McDowell said: “There’s three or four holes which are question marks and I think 18 is one of them. Seventeen is another.

“It kind of takes the Ben Curtis finish last year out of play – he’d five threes in a row to finish. I like it though. I think it’s got some fantastic changes on it. I think at least nine or 10 of the holes are big improvements and the greens are good. 

“The 18th is interesting. We were just saying, when you’ve 210 yards to the front, it’s worth going for. But a normal drive probably leaves me 230 to the front, that’s where Rory and I both hit it there. You wouldn’t go for it from there, I’d think. 

“I really had to manufacture a three-wood so I’d only go for it if I could get a hybrid in my hand.”

McIlroy took the ferry to Holyhead to avoid  airport delays caused by the Icelandic volcano.

But he’s hoping he produce some explosive stuff of his won following his PGA Tour breakthrough at Quail Hollow two weeks ago.

Rated joint favourite with Lee Westwood to take the title on Sunday night, McIlroy can’t wait to get going on European soil for the first time this season.

Delighted with the new Wentworth test, he said: “I think it’s great. The third has changed a little bit and it’s a lot tougher and the scoring holes have been made a lot tougher. 

“But it’s been designed for a major-style championship and I’m looking forward to it. It’s nice to be back home in Europe.”

Harrington has never been a fan of Wentworth but he likes the changes that Els has made, especially the new greens.

Harrington said: “I like what I see. I think Ernie has done a great job over the last number of years in making the golf course a stronger, but fairer, challenge. 

“I think the key here is that they know they are holding at least one championship here every year, and it gives the tournament director more control of how he wants to see the golf course set up.”

As for the minor knee surgery he will undergo next Tuesday, Harrington added: “If I can have it cleared up now, it reduces the chance of arthritis for a number of years. So it’s just a precautionary thing as much as anything.” 

Meanwhile, JB Holmes, Rickie Fowler and crowd favourite John Daly have confirmed they will join the world class field for the JP McManus Invitational Pro-Am at Adare Manor from July 5-6.

Organiser McManus said: “JB and Rickie are two of the most exciting young players on tour and we are sure they will make a major connection with the Irish crowds at Adare Manor. John is an old friend of Irish golf fans, remains as popular as ever and we appreciate his support for the tournament.”