James Kingston defies conditions at Wentworth as favourites falter
No lingering unease between McIlroy and McDowell after recent tension
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”.
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.”