The teeth have been ungritted, the mind opened to fresh thoughts and the mood modified to optimistic but whatever Graeme McDowell tries to get the better of Wentworth’s West Course, the Irishman admits he has something of a Marmite relationship with the place.
Love it or hate it, and after three straight missed cuts at the BMW PGA Championship one can guess McDowell is veering towards the latter, at least the former US Open champion continues to play the European Tour’s flagship tournament, which starts today, just west of London.
Ryder Cup colleague Ian Poulter will not be here, having turned his back on the event after eight missed cuts in 13 appearances at the BMW PGA and only one top-10 finish. The Englishman has finally said enough is enough and McDowell doesn’t blame his fellow Florida resident, insisting Europeans should not be forced to play their Tour’s most prestigious event.
>>decent looking move!!— Graeme McDowell (@Graeme_McDowell) May 20, 2015
“It’s difficult. I look at guys like (Pádraig) Harrington, in the past (he) doesn’t come here just because he can’t play the golf course. I spoke to Ian Poulter the last few weeks; he just can’t play the golf course.
“I certainly have a love/hate relationship here. I love coming here. I hate going home on Friday nights.
“But I think we all love this; as European Tour players, we love the atmosphere here, we love the vibe and we love the way the golf course feels and the support we get from the fans.
“It’s a very hard decision to not to play this one. I know guys like Ian, he doesn’t take that decision lightly and he feels bad about it. Every now and again you have to look after yourself, and Ian has done a huge amount for golf here in Britain and Ireland, and I certainly respect that decision.”
For McDowell, who missed the tournament last year to spend time with his then-pregnant wife, turning round his Wentworth fortunes is a matter of psychology.
“I think the only way that I can change my record around here is just to have an open mind,” he said yesterday.
“Having not been here last year, I come here with a certain amount of freshness, sort of looking at the golf course through a new set of eyes, taking my old yardage books and putting them in the bin and starting again and just really starting to relearn this golf course and understand it and pay attention to things maybe I haven’t seen before.
“Like I say, just view it with an open mind, and continue to work hard on my game and see if I can execute and get on the leaderboard this weekend. That would be a lot of fun.”
Harrington was avoiding Wentworth well before Poulter gave up on the West Course. He skipped the BMW PGA Championship in 2003 and 2004 before returning to record a tie for 11th and then his career best finish here, a tie for sixth in 2006. He went back the following year too, tying for 24th, but his appearances since have been sporadic, another tie for sixth in 2010, a missed cut in 2012 and lowly T61 a year ago.
Yet the three-time major champion is back this week, shoulder injury permitting, and shows no ill will to the course.
“I like the venue. I like the place. I’m happy to be here. It’s Wentworth; it’s the BMW Championship. BMW do a great job here. What’s not to like about it,” Harrington declared.
“Yeah, okay, I’ve struggled on the golf course but that’s more to do with me than the golf course. It’s quite a claustrophobic golf course if you ask me and I probably haven’t hit it straight enough at times to compete on the golf course, especially when it gets a bit firmer and faster. “I really like Ernie’s tee-to-green layout. I think he did a fantastic job opening up the fairways and putting a bit more trouble on the outside of the fairways.
“I just haven’t played well on this golf course at this time of the year; or it’s a test that’s not been the one for me. So that’s just the way it is. But I still like being here, it’s one of the great venues in golf.”
Winning here helps too, of course. Just ask this week’s defending champion Rory McIlroy, who arrived at Wentworth 12 months ago on the back of consecutive missed cuts and three overall in six appearances here.
“This is a tournament I wasn’t sure I’d ever win in my career just because of my relationship with the West Course,” McIlroy said before breaking into a grin, “but it was nice to win it last year.”
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