VIRGINIA WATER, England -- In the 64-year history of the BMW PGA Championship, only one American has won the title, Arnold Palmer in 1975 (when it was the Penfold PGA). And that 44-year run of futility is likely to be extended. By close of play on day three at Wentworth, three of Uncle Sam’s more adventurous nephews are in the top 10, but it will take something extra special for any of them to claim the $1,166,660 first-place check.
After a well-played five-under par 67, Patrick Reed is best-placed of the three in eighth place, six shots back of leader Jon Rahm. Billy Horschel (71) and Andrew Putnam (70) are tied, four places and one stroke further adrift.
That’s the, let’s say, ordinary news. Much more encouraging is the fact that the trio -- all making their maiden appearances in the European Tour’s flagship event -- are having a very nice time, thank you very much. (Tony Finau is also in the field and is T-45 after a disappointing 77 summed up by a sad double-bogey seven on the final hole.)
So far at least, the weather has been kind. The Burma Road course has been presented in splendid condition, aided by the change of date from May to September. And the crowds, starved of just about any trans-Atlantic representation over the years, have reacted in positive fashion to the effort made by the visitors to come over and play.
“I’ve been wanting to come for five or six years,” said Horschel. “But the move to September made it a no-brainer for me. I told the European Tour I was coming at the HSBC in China late last year. I was that keen. And I hope more Americans will come in the future. This event is the European Tour’s major in the same way as the Players is for the PGA Tour.
“Plus, this course is such a great test of golf,” continued Horschel. “To shoot low scores you have to hit really good shots. You can’t fake it. And when it gets windy and dried out you really have to think about your shots. I told [European Tour chief executive] Keith Pelley this event has exceeded my expectations, it is a rival for the best of the best on the PGA Tour. Everything has been great. I feel like this is just like a top PGA Tour event. I’m going to tell the guys in America that they should find a way to get it onto their schedules.”
Putnam has already done so, of course. And the 30-year old from Washington state was understandably unfazed by the prospect of some wet and windy weather on day four. Like Horschel, Putnam has nothing but positive things to say about his first visit to London. From the open-top bus tour of the city, to dinner at one of the city’s top restaurants, he’s been having a jolly good time.
“This is just a great championship,” said Putnam. “And I’ve had a great reception from the crowds. They seem to like the fact that some of us have come over. As a competitor you always want to play against the best in the world. This is one of the stronger fields of the year. And this course makes you think. There are a few uncomfortable tee shots out there. They get your heart rate going. In every way, this tournament has a real major-type feel. I hope to come back.”
Already a member of the European Tour, Reed came off the course frustrated by his inability to turn his six-birdie, one-bogey 67 into something really special. But the smile on his face wasn’t long in returning when the subject of his burgeoning relationship with the galleries was raised.
“The fans here are awesome and very respectful,” he said. “I think they love to see the Americans coming over. And ever since I ‘shushed’ the crowd at the 2014 Ryder Cup at Gleneagles I’ve had fun here. There is always a lot of friendly banter. The fans took what I did in exactly the right way. Walking up one of the holes today there were even some ‘Europe’ chants as I was with Francesco [Molinari]. That made us laugh.
“I feel like I’m not getting much out of my rounds,” continued Reed. “The good thing Is I’m hitting the ball solid. I’ve had a ton of birdie looks. But I’ve had a few lip-outs and burned edges. If I continue to hit the ball this way -- I missed only two greens today -- there is a really low one out there for me tomorrow. I’m going to need one to win. The key is hitting the fairways to give yourself chances. But my putter needs to get hot.”
Make that very hot. Chances are Arnold’s record is safe for another 12 months.