If anyone can recognise opportunity when it knocks, it’s Ernie Els and he’s looking to answer the knocking at this week’s BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth.
“I just need to get going, and it’s a good time to get going,” he said ahead of the European Tour’s flagship event. “This is the start of a big championship season. We’ve got three majors in the next couple of months, so it’s a good time to get it going.”
And he couldn’t hope to hand-pick a better place to kick start a charge at the US Open Championship, the Open Championship and the PGA Championship at a better place than at Wentworth.
“I’ve got a lot of history here at the golf course – my Match Play wins, a house here, the kids were born here, so it really feels like a second home,” he said.
While he missed the cut at the Players Championship on the US PGA Tour two weeks ago, the familiarity he feels around Wentworth can give him the kind of boost that could give him an edge over players who might be in better form.
Of those players, the most obvious threat is from Sergio Garcia, but Wentworth will likely prove extremely testing given he has not competed in the event since 2000. However, he is in prime form: Despite not yet winning this year, he has not finished outside of the top 20 in six appearances on the European Tour this season, amassing three top 10s – the best of which was tied second at the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters in January.
But Garcia has well-documented distractions this year, and it appears that the way Els is dealing with his own distraction – the confirmation that anchored stroke for putting is to be illegal from January 2016 – might just see him do well for the final few times he uses the long putter.
“I think 2016 is fair,” he said. “It’s giving a guy two-and-a-half years to get into another method of putting. Some players might not be able to do it, but at least it’s a good period of time.”
He knows what it gives him now, and he understands he probably wouldn’t have won the Open last year without the long putter: “I was in such a state on the greens; I’m a lot better now,” he said. “I’m still working with Sherylle [Calder]. It was more a psychological thing for me. I’m in a much better place now and I feel that I can get back into the short putter in the near future.”
Of course, Els is fully aware that he will have more players than just Garcia with whom to contend: “We’ve got great players here – the Ryder Cup team is here – I think it’s going to be a great tournament,” he said.
In addition, the South African challengers can ride Els’ coattails to success of their own too: Branden Grace, Richard Sterne, Thomas Aiken, Dawie van der Walt, James Kingston, Darren Fichardt, Garth Mulroy, Hennie Otto and Jbe’ Kruger have a couple of fistfuls of European Tour titles between them, and could all hit the jackpot at Wentworth.
In addition, George Coetzee, Jaco van Zyl, Keith Horne and Justin Walters all have what it takes to win on the European Tour.
Like Els has done before them, they all have to recognise the sound of opportunity knocking.