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Ernie Els rates BMW PGA Championship as "fifth major"
May 26, 2011

Ernie Els believes the PGA Championship at Wentworth is now a bigger event than The Players Championship (TPC) in Florida, the tournament dubbed golf’s unofficial fifth major.

The South African, who has masterminded a host of changes to the iconic West Course on the outskirts of London, also said the alterations he had made to the layout over the past 12 months meant it was now as good as any major venue in golf.

“This (tournament) is definitely taking the place of the TPC,” Els told Reuters in an interview on the eve of the European Tour’s flagship event.

“At least at the 18th hole there is a bailout area now whereas at the (island green) 17th at Sawgrass there is no bailout and you can lose the tournament there.

“I also feel we’ve got a stronger field here and a classic golf course,” added Els referring to the fact that seven of the world’s top nine players will be in action when the PGA Championship starts on Thursday.

“I want to make this feel like the Augusta of the European Tour and we can do that. We’ve got the trees, a great layout and we just want to keep making it better and not go backwards.”

Els received lots of criticism from his fellow players for the wholesale changes he made to the course 12 months ago but he is hopeful there will no such outcry this year.

“It’s beautiful and I think this is the best I’ve seen the course in many a year,” said the world number 20 as he stood back to survey the scene on the 16th fairway.

“It’s a championship course and it can stand with any major now. The greens are in great shape and are running nicely.

“The course and the bunkers have been manicured really well — we’ve made some changes from last year again and it’s a helluva test but I think it’s a fair test.”

The 41-year-old, who now lives in the United States but still owns a property beside the 16th fairway at Wentworth, completely remodelled the West Course in 2010.

However, several players criticised last year’s alterations especially the new moat and elevated putting surface at the par-five 18th.

Els has made further tweaks to the closing hole and believes the players will now be more inclined to go for the green in two.

“The green is almost twice as big now,” said the triple major winner. “It’s gone from some 380 square metres to 586, that’s a huge change.

“There is also a big bailout area to the right where the bunkers are. As a player I understand when you can go for something and when you can’t and last year it was a green you couldn’t go for (in two).

“I think more than 50 percent of the guys, if they are in position this year, they will go for the green,” said Els.

He took the course criticism to heart last year and at the end of the championship he told Reuters that some of the players had “put the knife” into him.

Although Els has yet to discover the opinions of his fellow competitors, he said he would be more sanguine with his reaction this time round.

“You are always going to get stick out there, there’s always some banter, but I got to a point last year when I kind of had enough,” said the winner of the 2002 British Open and the U.S. Open champion of 1994 and 1997.

“Some of the guys just kept going and going so I had to kind of stand up to that.

“We’ll see what the comments are in the papers. Last year I was always a little uneasy but this time I’m feeling very confident,” Els added.

“If there’s criticism this year I will take it very lightly because I think the course is right where we want it now.”

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