James Kingston defies conditions at Wentworth as favourites falter

No lingering unease between McIlroy and McDowell after recent tension

Fri, May 24, 2013, 02:00

The ingredients – wind, rain and the sort of cold that manages to infiltrate those super-duper body thermals so that bones are frozen to the core – combined with a course playing every inch of its length to provide a severe examination in the unfinished opening round of the BMW PGA Championship yesterday, where South African James Kingston’s 66, six-under, defied conditions and was at odds with the travails that befell some pre-tournament favourites.

On a dank day in the leafy Wentworth estate, birdies were hard-earned and bogeys, or worse, proved hard to avoid. Nobody discovered this as much as Rory McIlroy, the world number two. Although he had moved off the first tee with a spring in his step, and joking with playing partner Graeme McDowell in instantly allaying any indication of lingering unease between the two, McIlroy plodded home with a ponderousness that resulted in five bogeys in his final six holes.

McIlroy signed for a 74, as did McDowell, but they weren’t alone in labouring to such over-par scores. Luke Donald, champion here for the past two years, struggled with many elements of his game in registering a six-over 78, while Justin Rose – motoring nicely until the final two holes – finished bogey-double bogey to transform a very good round into a decent one, a 72.

Sergio Garcia – under the spotlight after making a remark construed as racist on Tuesday night – put eagled the 18th to rescue a level par 72. No sooner had he signed his card, than Garcia was informed European Tour chief executive George O’Grady had himself released a one-line statement to apologise for using the word “coloured” in a television interview.

“I deeply regret using an inappropriate word in a live interview for Sky Sports for which I unreservedly apologise,” said O’Grady, who had been seeking to demonstrate that Garcia’s circle of friends numbered every ethnicity. Garcia described O’Grady’s use of the word as “unfortunate”.

Slip-ups
McIlroy, who had put his old Scotty Cameron putter in the bag in search of some improvement on the greens only to use it 33 times including a three-putt bogey on the 14th, was left to ponder what might have been. “It was one of those rounds I let slip through my hands,” he conceded. Three-under through 12, McIlroy finished bogey-bogey-bogey-par-bogey-bogey.

“The thing that gets me is the cold, when the hands get cold. Your body doesn’t feel the way it usually does,” said McIlroy, adding: “For the most part of the round, I played well . . . . (just) got on a run where I was making bogeys and couldn’t quite stop.”

The bogey on the finishing hole came from a loose drive into bushes, which forced him to take a penalty drop.

McDowell had battled gamely, until he reached the 18th hole where – a year on from a finishing triple-bogey in the first round of the corresponding tournament – he this time ran up a double-bogey six, putting his third shot into the water that fronts the green.

“Just a typical Wentworth performance from me really . . . I don’t play this golf course well. I kind of find it long and a bit of a slog, a tough golf course,” said McDowell, fresh off his win in the Volvo World Matchplay in Bulgaria. He added: “I’m not blaming anything at all, just a standard Wentworth performance from me unfortunately. It’s not my happiest hunting ground . . . (but) I’m in great form. I’m swinging the club great. I’m feeling great.

“Just sometimes you get to golf courses which don’t fit your eye 100 per cent. This is a huge event. I want to be here and to perform as well as I possibly can. I’ll come out and give it 100 per cent (in the second round) and see if I can’t get myself back into it.”

On a more positive note, away from the actual competitive element, McDowell claimed his friendship with McIlroy “is not in jeopardy”, explaining: “Rory read a few things I’d said. After I’d explained to him where I was coming from with those things, I was merely trying to speculate about speculation. I’m not in a position to give any official confirmation to what’s going on because I don’t really know what’s going on. After I explained to him where I was coming from, he understood. We have no problems. We are good friends and the last thing I want, whatever happens between Rory McIlroy and Horizon Sports, is that him and I lose our friendship. That’s not going to happen. We’re very good friends and all is good.”

A 90-minutes suspension in the afternoon, due to the threat of lightning in the area, led to a number of groups failing to finish as darkness closed in. But Kingston – whose only two tour wins came in his native South Africa – was unconcerned about any such fading light, having signed for an impressive 66 to take a one-shot lead over Finland’s Mikko Illonen. Spain’s Fernando Castano birdied five of his last eight holes for a 68.

Having lost his tour card last season, Kingston is only playing here on a sponsor’s invite. He intends to make the most of it. “It takes one good week and things change again. I’ve been out here 11 years and it is tough to lose your card . . . let’s see what happens.”