Belt eyes McIlroy as great and good converge on Surrey

Alex Belt will compete at the PGA Championship at Wentworth.
Alex Belt will compete at the PGA Championship at Wentworth.
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THE PGA Championship at Wentworth has always been an event for the big stars of the European Tour, but it is also a tournament for the little 

The little man in this instance is Alex Belt, a 29-year-old professional from Bridlington who today tees off in the company of some of the biggest names in world golf.

Rory McIlroy arrives in the picturesque stretch of Surrey real estate looking to win an eighth tournament since his triumph there 12 months ago.

Justin Rose is targeting an event that is on his career ‘bucket list’ while Luke Donald and Lee Westwood tee off seeking to rediscover the winning formula around a familiar course.

But it is Belt for whom this week has extra resonance.

The reigning Yorkshire PGA match play champion – one of many regional titles he won in 2014 – has qualified for this opportunity through the national PGA order of merit and is determined to grab his chance with both hands.

“It’s going to be a great insight and learning experience for me in many different ways,” said Belt, who plays out of Snainton near Scarborough and Leeds’s Oulton Hall.

“I don’t have a target for the week, I will just try to focus on the way I process my thoughts and execute my shots as best I can.

“I used to set goals and targets for every year but I haven’t set any for the past three years. I hope to just be able to enjoy the experience and learn from it, from watching how the best players in the world practice to how they plot their way around the course.”

Belt tees off today at 10.45am alongside Shiv Kapur and Byeong Hun An, but hopes to be playing with a certain someone on the weekend.

“Rory McIlroy – that would be the ideal scenario,” said Belt

One man who has elevated himself into the glamour threeballs in recent times is Danny Willett.

The 27-year-old from Sheffield – back from a long stint in America highlighted by a Masters appearance and a semi-final place at the WGC matchplay – is paired with Rose and Graeme McDowell for the first two days.

Willett was fifth at Wentworth in 2010. Hull’s Richard Finch is in desperate need of form and a large slice of the five million euro prize pot, but there is no Simon Dyson, third at Wentworth three years ago.

The 37-year-old had to withdraw from the Spanish Open last week with a wrist injury that had sidelined him for nearly two months and is now contemplating going under the knife to rescue his season.

Of the leading contenders, Rose lost a play-off to Anders Hansen in 2007 and was joint second in 2012. He comes into the week having finished second in the Masters before winning the Zurich Classic in New Orleans. “Obviously growing up so close to here, this tournament is even more special to me than it should be,” said the former US Open champion.

“There will be a lot of familiar faces in the crowd for me, and it always makes it very special.

“This would be very special for me to win. Call it a bucket list tournament. Outside of the major championships, I can’t think of a tournament I’d like to win more than this one.

“It’s obviously a huge event and given the local feel for me.

“I remember coming out and watching till probably 6pm and going home, practising, trying to emulate what I saw that day.”