Luke Donald tees off on the 15th hole during the third round of The Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass - Stadium Course. (USA TODAY Sports: Geoff Burke)
VIRGINIA WATER, England — Wentworth is a course that polarizes opinion among golf’s elite players - some like it, others hate it - and the views of Henrik Stenson and Luke Donald provide a perfect summary of the situation.
World number three Stenson returns to the BMW PGA Championship this week for the first time in four years and it is clear why he has been avoiding the European Tour’s flagship event.
“It’s for a couple of reasons,” the Florida-based Swede told reporters on the eve of the tournament. “One is that I’ve never done any good here.
“There is a point where you say to yourself, ‘I know it’s a big and important week but if you’re struggling on the golf course and you can’t quite figure it out, should you just keep banging your head against the wall trying to get better?’.
“The other is being a dual member,” he added in reference to the U.S. and European circuits, “there is a limit to how many times you can go back and forth.”
Stenson has a chance to go top of the world rankings this week, depending on incumbent Adam Scott’s performance at the Crowne Plaza Invitational in Texas, and is aiming to improve on his best previous result at the PGA - a tie for eighth place in 2007.
“If the mind surely wants something then you can overcome some of these things,” he said of his natural aversion to the iconic West Course situated on the outskirts of London.
“If you told me you’re going to strangle me if I don’t squeeze a top-10 finish here this week, I might be able to do it,” he said to roars of laughter.
“I just don’t feel I play well on this course, and it’s hard for me, but I’m going to try my best.”
Former world number one Donald, by contrast, loves the idea of playing in front of his home fans.
“This has one of the best atmospheres of any tournament we play because of the crowds and the support you get,” said the Chicago-based Englishman.
“I’m not over here that often so the fans are looking to catch a piece of me and get some autographs and watch me play. Because of that it makes for a fun week.”
Donald’s view of Wentworth may not have been too different to Stenson’s a few years ago but victories at the BMW PGA Championship in 2011 and 2012 and the recent Ernie Els-inspired changes to the layout have changed his outlook.
“Coming to a place where I’ve won a couple of times is always fun,” he explained. “Maybe five years ago I might not have said the same because my results weren’t that great around here.
“But obviously in the last few years I’ve had a couple of wins and any time you come back to a place where you’ve had some success you look forward to it.
“When they redid the greens they became a lot smoother and I was able to utilize that. My putting is a big strength and I was able to putt a lot better,” said world number 19 Donald.
“When you miss around this course you need a pretty good short game, the bunkers are very deep and you need to be confident out of the sand. I just think little stuff like that kind of favours my game.”