Ernie Els gives the impression of being unflappable hence the ‘Big Easy’ nickname he dislikes but one got the feeling he psyched himself out of the lead at the BMW PGA Championship.
Els is the named designer of the many and much-criticised changes to the West Course, even though it’s acknowledged that the Wentworth owner Richard Caring had what’s delicately described as an “active role” in the philosophy of the £7 million overhaul, as well as funding it.
In less diplomatic language, Caring is supposed to be entirely responsible overruling the protests of Els and others for the water feature at the 538-yard 18th, which is about as natural as Joan Rivers’ face, with similar aesthetic value.
However, it’s Els’ signature that is on this abomination, and reaching the 18th fairway at three-under, it seemed he clearly felt he had to go for the green in two to prove it was possible.
Most in the field have opined that, rather than increase the risk-reward element at the hole, the new water has erased it: the difficulty of holding the new, tiny green with a fairway wood or long iron is simply too great when one can lay up and take the easier option of a wedge and a birdie putt.
Scotland’s Marc Warren was the first man to attempt to come home in two but he admitted later it was a decision borne of desperation, lying at six-over after 17.
He duly hit driver off the tee against the advice of his caddie, fired a sweet four-iron into 15 feet and was rewarded for his boldness with the only eagle on the hole all day.
In the next group, England’s Paul Waring also attempted to get home in two, carried the flag but only just held on to the sloped collar of rough at the back of the green, making his birdie with a routine up and down.
Nobody, in fact, bogeyed the hole at all until Els arrived, and he attempted a five-wood from the fairway, aiming at tight bail-out area on the right but finding the water instead, and taking a bogey when a birdie would have had him as co-leader at the time with playing partner Ross Fisher.
“Not very good,” said Els, refuting that the fact he designed the hole had anything to do with his decision.
“I was hitting the ball so good, and it was a perfect five-wood. I had room on the right, I just didn’t make a good swing.”
The argument for the new 18th so far has been that it will not detract from the excitement at the home hole, which has always been an eagle chance to change a round or even a championship.
The party line is there is still that chance, just more chance of double bogeys as well. The effect was to take the excitement right out of the hole, as the players simply wouldn’t take it on, most hitting five-wood off the tee and two wedges to take their chances on the green.
Fisher, who was runner-up to Paul Casey on the old West last year, birdied the last two, four of the last five and nine in all before finishing at four-under, and was a bit cheeky about his playing partner.
“I liked it the way it was before,” said Fisher, a product of Wentworth’s youth golf programme.
“The designer has gone for it in two and made the water, whereas I’ve been here 16 years, played smart and made four. Make of that what you want.”