Francesco Molinari sets early Wentworth pace with fine opening 65

Frustrated world number one Rory McIlroy six adrift following an opening 71

 Rory McIlroy  tees off on the 9th hole during day one of the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth. Photo:  Warren Little/Getty Images

Rory McIlroy tees off on the 9th hole during day one of the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth. Photo: Warren Little/Getty Images

 

An Italian job of sorts was carried out on the West Course as Francesco Molinari stepped into Rory McIlroy’s spotlight. Just this once, it seemed, he had stolen the Northern Irishman’s thunder as an impressive opening round of 65, seven-under-par, gave Molinari the first round lead here on the leafy Wentworth estate.

Not bad for an appetiser.

In truth, though, even when standing in the shadows, there is no hiding place for McIlroy.

The world number one used his clubs 71 times to at least finish with a sub-par round – plus one other occasion when tossing his three-wood in front of him in an act of frustration after putting his approach to the 17th through the green into the rough, an act that will likely lead to an undisclosed fine – and he later admitted to feeling “a bit angry out there”.

McIlroy – who has finished 1st-8th-1st in his last three starts and is playing here in the fourth tournament of a five-week stretch up to next week’s Irish Open before catching a breather – should perhaps be allowed some leeway for any element of mental fatigue in his bid to defend a title he won last year on a course he had previously described as “a grind,” but now admitting it was a case of having to “grin and bear it” if he were to control his emotions, especially on the greens.

Four birdies

“I just need to stay in control of my emotions . . . . if I’m a little tired or a little fatigued mentally, I’ll start to be hard on myself,” he said, adding: “Mentally, I could feel myself getting down on myself and that’s something I haven’t been doing over the past few weeks. I need to be aware of that, to be conscious that I need to try to keep everything on an even keel.”

McIlroy was not alone in getting frustrated or in releasing a pressure valve, for the course – and a swirling wind – made correct club selection and shot execution paramount.

Justin Rose, the only other player from the world’s top-10 competing, like McIlroy, signed for an opening 71 that was notable for nine straight pars on his homeward journey. In his case, patience was definitely a virtue.

Luke Donald, a former world number one but nowadays struggling to regain former glories, found one way to outwit the greens, which grew more untrustworthy as the round progressed. Thee Englishman, a former champion, chipped in twice to help sign for a 70 that puts him very much into the reckoning.

And McIlroy’s pain was also felt by Shane Lowry, who had chased him home a year ago. That runner-up finish felt very much in the past for the Offalyman, who struggled to a 74, the same mark as Graeme McDowell.

“I just played poorly again. I don’t know what I am doing the last few months because I am trying my hardest, it’s just not happening. I have to stick my head down and keep plugging away . . . . I am just doing everything pretty average, it just feels hard to shoot a score at the minute. It’s quite frustrating,” said Lowry.

Greenside bunkers

Peter Lawrie

Niall Kearney, on his debut in the championship, stuck manfully to his game. The Dubliner was in four greenside bunkers on the four opening holes but managed to save par three times and eventually signed for a level-par 72.

It was Molinari – in some contrast to his brother Edoardo who was forced to retire mid-round with a wrist injury – who stole the show on the first day. Molinari, who is trying to juggle the task of playing on the PGA Tour and the European Tour, took a two-stroke lead over Sweden’s Robert Karlsson with five players, among them Miguel Angel Jimenez, a shot further adrift on 68s.

The secret, as far as Molinari was concerned, was in staying out of trouble – out of the trees, and out of the deep bunkers.

“You need to be in control of the ball flight as much as you can, with the wind swirling around in the trees. There is more emphasis on accuracy off the tees,” he said.

On this occasion, Francesco, the younger of the brothers, did it better than anyone. He claimed the spotlight. But for how long?

There are players waiting to emerge from the shadows!

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.