European PGA pleading 5th

Tour's flagship event gathers strongest field

May 26, 2011|By Jeff Shain, Tribune newspapers

Two weeks after the PGA Tour's "fifth major," the global schedule brings us the "other fifth major."

This week's BMW PGA Championship is the European Tour's flagship event — and with the strength of European golf these days, getting more vocal support as the next in prestige behind the four majors.

"This is definitely taking the place of the TPC," Ernie Els told reporters this week.

That follows word from world No.1 Lee Westwood, who said recently the BMW PGA "is the biggest title that I play for outside the majors."

So who takes the "fifth"?

The Euro PGA boasts its strongest field, with seven of the top 10 in the world rankings in attendance at Wentworth Club. That's the same number as were left at TPC Sawgrass after Tiger Woods took an early exit.

But only Wentworth can claim the top three, since Westwood not-so-discreetly chose to sit out The Players Championship. It also has Nos. 5, 6 and 7 — which Sawgrass couldn't claim with Rory McIlroy also on the sideline.

Beyond the top crust, though, The Players shows its depth. The Euro PGA has just four more players among the top 25; Sawgrass attracted all but one. Victory at Wentworth will be worth just 64 ranking points, 16 fewer than Players champion K.J. Choi received.

Opens closing: Sergio Garcia hasn't missed a major championship since teeing it up at the 1999 British Open, a streak that reached 47 when he tied for 35th at the Masters last month. That run is in serious jeopardy now.

The Spaniard lasted just four holes in Monday's British Open international qualifier, withdrawing with an infected fingernail. He still can get into the field by cracking the top 50 in next week's world rankings — he's 73rd now — or via a few other convoluted methods.

The bigger issue might be the U.S. Open, where Garcia missed the first top-50 cutoff Monday. That leaves the U.S. Golf Association's new last-gasp top-50 snapshot on June 13 — or enter 36-hole qualifying on June 6.

Tap-ins: It wasn't simply more back woes that prompted Fred Couples to withdraw from this week's Senior PGA Championship. Couples told PGA Tour officials that doctors recently removed cancerous lesions from his hands. … Former PGA Tour Commissioner Deane Beman is this year's recipient of the Byron Nelson Prize for giving back to the community.

— Jeff Shain

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