Gleneagles plays host to the 14th installment of the Johnnie Walker Championship this week, with the 156-man field eager to take on the new challenge offered by the recently remodeled PGA Centenary Course. The stop on the European Tour showcases the Jack Nicklaus-designed course as it readies to host the 2014 Ryder Cup.
An all-star field includes 26 countries represented, as well as a strong contingent of as many as 24 Scottish players for home fans to follow. The 2012 Johnnie Walker Championship field has amassed a remarkable 260 European Tour titles between them, including seven major championships. Joining defending champion Thomas Björn and his fellow 2012 European Ryder Cup Vice Captains, Darren Clarke and Paul McGinley, are Paul Lawrie, Francesco Molinari, Rafael Cabrera-Bello and Nicolas Colsaerts amongst other European stars.
The award-winning Jack Nicklaus Signature Course has recently undergone significant changes ahead of hosting the 2014 Ryder Cup. The course originally opened for play in 1993 and its extensive modifications were completed in close consultation with the Golden Bear and his Nicklaus Design team. The PGA Centenary Course at Gleneagles reopened to the public on April 28th of this year.
“When I was asked to design the course more than 20 years ago, it was a pretty challenging golf course,” Nicklaus said after touring the course with the Gleneagles team in June to review his changes. “With the equipment and the golf ball, and everything going so much farther, it needed alterations.
“The 18th hole was the biggest change. We dropped the green five or six meters and created a tremendous amphitheatre. It’s not a very difficult hole, but it’s exciting. There will be birdies and eagles and bogeys on it, and you’re going to get shots that change (the match). It’s more about creating good golf than creating the most difficult shots and course in the world. It’s about creating one that the players will enjoy, and I think they will enjoy it.”
Defending Champion Thomas Björn, who European Ryder Cup Captain José María Olazábal named last week as one of his four Vice Captains, is looking forward to defending his title at Gleneagles.
“Winning the 2011 Johnnie Walker Championship was one of the highlights of last season,” said Björn. “To come back as champion is very special and I’m raring to get going and see the new alterations first hand, especially the 18th green. Gleneagles and Diageo (official partner of the 2014 Ryder Cup) treat the players very well and I always enjoy coming back to this part of Scotland.”
The Johnnie Walker Championship is also in the limelight due to the year-long race for spots on the European Ryder Cup reaching its climax this week. While Sergio Garcia confirmed his spot with a convincing win at the Wyndham Championship yesterday, Ryder Cup hopefuls Rafael Cabrera- Bello, Nicolas Colsaerts and US PGA Championship runner-up David Lynn are all hoping they can do enough to be added to Jose Maria Olazabal’s team come Sunday. All three can oust the player in the last automatic spot, Germany’s Martin Kaymer. Captain Olazábal will name his two wild-card picks Monday and a good performance might be enough to convince the Spaniard they should be on that plane to Medinah in just over a month’s time.
One man who has his seat booked already is home favorite and former Open Champion, Paul Lawrie. Lawrie qualifies fourth on the European points table and the Scot, who ends a 13-year European team appearance drought, is keen to put on a good display at Gleneagles. “I’m thrilled to know that my place in the 2012 Ryder Cup team is now secure” Lawrie said. “My focus is on the here and now though and that continues with playing well here at Gleneagles. This is my 12th Johnnie Walker Championship and it’s a tournament I really enjoy. I really hope the Scottish golf fans are out in force and enjoy the golf on show.”
Other Scots who will be gunning for the Johnnie Walker Championship trophy and £233,330 ($368, 646.00 USD) winner’s purse include former Ryder Cup Captain and Championship Chairman Colin Montgomerie, West Lothian’s Stephen Gallacher, who has a history of playing well at Gleneagles, 2007 Champion Marc Warren, Glaswegian Alastair Forsyth and Gleneagles Scottish PGA Champion Graham Fox, amongst others.
Championship Director, Graeme Marchbank of Diageo, official partner of the 2014 Ryder Cup commented, “It’s great to see that is so much to play for here at the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles this week. There is a real buzz about this year’s Championship and we are looking forward to hosting our defending champion Thomas Björn and the rest of the field here in Perthshire. Being host to the 2014 Ryder Cup, Gleneagles is a fitting stage for the 2012 Ryder Cup race to go right down to the wire, so let battle commence.”
Previous winners of the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles include England’s Warren Bennett in 1999; Sweden’s Pierre Fulke in 2000; Englishman Paul Casey in 2001 and 2006 (the only player to win twice); Australia’s Adam Scott in 2002; Denmark’s Søren Kjeldsen in 2003; England’s Miles Tunnicliff in 2004; Italy’s Emanuele Canonica in 2005; Marc Warren, the only Scot to win, in 2007; Grégory Havret of France in 2008; Sweden’s Peter Hedblom in 2009; Edoardo Molinari in 2010 and Thomas Björn in 2011.
The prize fund is £1.4 million ($2.2 million USD) with the winner receiving a check for £233,330 ($368,646 USD).
The 2012 Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles will again be broadcast on Sky Sports.
Once again Gleneagles will donate all the revenue from day-of ticket sales to ClubGolf – Scotland’s junior golf development program.