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McIlroy has designs on taking tips from Els

By Mark Garrod

Rory McIlroy’s quest to win the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth will start alongside a man who knows the course better than anyone else — because he is the man who redesigned it.

The Holywood-man will tee-off with South African Ernie Els on Thursday morning, with Martin Laird also in the group.

Els hopes the moaning and groaning about his new-look Wentworth becomes a thing of the past this week.

Paul Casey, Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood have been among the critics since the Surrey course was toughened up two years ago.

Casey called it "a grind", while Poulter said after a second-round 74 completed with a double-bogey seven last May: "You're watching, you tell me, is it fun?"

Further changes have been made since, among them the 12th hole reverting to a par five and the fringe rough around the final green making it less likely that balls will spin into the water — as happened to Westwood as he lost a play-off and the world number one spot to Luke Donald.

"That wasn't the plan," said Els. "He didn't hit that bad a shot. The penalty was quite severe.

"Criticism is always tough to take, but if it's granted in the right way I'm fine with it.

"The way it was put forward the first year was a little childish (he hated the fact it was played out in the media rather than in private), but hopefully we'll have more smiling faces from the players this year.

"You make changes on a great course like the West Course people are going to not like it.

"That's part of what we do as designers, but I think we've passed that bridge.

"It's history and we've patched things up with all the players. You're not going to please everybody, but I don't believe everybody should criticise just because there's changes."

The condition of the course has been the main concern in recent weeks.

Head greenkeeper Chris Kennedy described it as "the most difficult build up I have ever known", adding: "March was the warmest and driest in 120 years and April was the wettest on record.

"Now May is shaping up to be the coldest in decades. We've had hail, white frosts and driving rain. It's been so hard getting quality grass to grow."

Casey will be happy just to be part of the action after pulling out of the Players Championship two weeks ago and then missing last week's Volvo World Match Play in Spain.

The former world number three felt more pain in the shoulder he dislocated snowboarding on Christmas Eve and last week fell out of the game's top 50.

Casey will give himself a strenuous test in the pre-tournament pro-am.

"I'll go it full whack then," he said. "I've got to get my brain to trust that I can't hurt it any more.

"It's amazing how the brain controls the body almost involuntarily. I'm frustrated, but I'm not stressed about it because I believe I can still play better golf than I ever have before."

Alongside him on the range was currently number three Westwood, sporting a beard for the first time.

l THE elite competitors in Irish amateur men and women's golf will be on display at two renowned links courses in the north and south of the island.

Royal Portrush seems to be the epicentre of all golfing matters this year with the Irish Close championship there this weekend (Friday to Sunday), the Irish Open scheduled for June 28-July 1, and the amateur North of Ireland championship from July 9-13.

At The Island in north County Dublin, the Irish Women's Open Stroke Play championship takes place over 54 holes on Saturday and Sunday. Leona Maguire (Slieve Russell) launches her defence of the title.

Maguire, fresh from her selection on the GB&I Curtis Cup team to play the USA in Nairn next month, led from wire to wire to win last year's championship at Elm Park.

Her twin, Lisa, first reserve for the Curtis Cup, will also be a challenger for the championship.

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