Pádraig Harrington has placed such emphasis on form with a view to Sunday's European Ryder Cup wildcard selections that a Wentworth 67 from Justin Rose was timely.
Rose remains one of the players involved in a scrap for a captain's pick, with the BMW PGA Championship providing the final opportunity for players to impress Harrington. Rose is five under for the tournament and quickly one up on his fellow Ryder Cup hopefuls.
Rose, who had his manager Paul McDonnell on the bag after his regular caddie tested positive for Covid-19, said: “It’s obviously a really nice start for the tournament. Gives me the opportunity now to sink in my teeth and focus on what I should be focusing on.
“Plan A is obviously to win,” Rose said. “Plan B is just to play well enough to give Pádraig something to think about. I covered both of those bases today.”
The Englishman did not drop a shot but was still outshone by one of his playing partners. Adam Scott, making a rare appearance on the European Tour, signed for a 65. His finest moment came at the 15th, where he flipped from a scramble to save par to taking the acclaim of the galleries after chipping in from 50 yards for a birdie.
“I got out of jail there, it was an incredible three,” Scott said. “Sometimes it’s just your day out there and it kind of felt like that a bit for me today. It’s not been the easiest year on the course for me. I’ve struggled to get momentum going, unlike today.”
On Rose’s scenario, Scott said: “He’s under pressure, yes. But Justin is world class. He’s one of the best players of this generation. When the pressure is on, he has shown an ability to lift himself.” A smile followed. “I would pick him . . . but I’m his mate.”
As Bernd Wiesberger struggled to three over par after six holes, one element of Harrington's job as Ryder Cup captain initially looked easier. If the Austrian finishes in the Top 50 at Wentworth he should snatch the final automatic qualifying berth from Shane Lowry.
Adding Lowry to the pick equation has a clear effect on others so it was significant that Wiesberger played his closing dozen holes in four under. A birdie-eagle finish in particular kept his Whistling Straits dreams alive.
Lowry carded four birdies and two bogeys in an opening two-under 70 matched by playing partner Lee Westwood.
A closing birdie left the Offaly man six shots off the pace and he is one shot clear of Jonathan Caldwell and Graeme McDowell after they both opening with 71s.
Harrington's first round of level-par 72 could have been so much better only for double-bogeys at his opening and closing holes. Cormac Sharvin will have to return early in the morning to finish his round after he was called in on the 16th hole due to bad light on a score of three over.
Kiradech Aphibarnrat set the early pace with a 64, including a stunning back nine of 30. The Thai player produced seven birdies and two pars on that run.
“I had a really hard time last two years,” he said. “Playing with injury, hurting my right knee and then when Covid hit I had to go back to my country. I was stuck there for eight months and couldn’t play much golf.
“When I came back out I just couldn’t get the rhythm to play a golf tournament. I get nerves to go on the first tee, I don’t know how to move the ball. I didn’t feel comfortable on the golf course at all.
“After I get my Tour card back from the Korn Ferry finals it just loosened me up so I feel free to play my own game.”
South Africa's Christiaan Bezuidenhout matched Aphibarnrat's score late in the day. – Guardian
Play suspended due to darkness with 10 players still to finish.
British and Irish unless stated, par 72
64 Christiaan Bezuidenhout (Rsa), Kiradech Aphibarnrat (Tha)
65 Adam Scott (Aus)
67 Justin Rose, Laurie Canter, Masahiro Kawamura (Jpn)
68 Pablo Larrazabal (Esp), Joost Luiten (Ned), Miguel Angel Jimenez (Esp), Francesco Laporta (Ita)
69 Francesco Molinari (Ita), Henrik Stenson (Swe), Alexander Bjoerk (Swe), Joachim B. Hansen (Den), Matthias Schwab (Aut), Thomas Detry (Bel), Oliver Wilson, Julian Suri (USA), Jamie Donaldson, Raphael Jacquelin (Fra)
70 Billy Horschel (USA), Lee Westwood, Shane Lowry, Martin Kaymer (Ger), Danny Willett, Aaron Rai, Alexander Noren (Swe), Thorbjoern Olesen (Den), Nicolai Hoejgaard (Den), Dean Burmester (Rsa), Steven Brown, Mikko Korhonen (Fin), Shubhankar Sharma (Ind), Grant Forrest, Daniel Gavins, Ignacio Elvira (Esp), Marcus Armitage, Ross McGowan, Thomas Pieters (Bel), Matthew Southgate, Kalle Samooja (Fin), Andrew Johnston, Fabrizio Zanotti (Pry), Justin Walters (Rsa), David Drysdale, Tapio Pulkkanen (Fin), Marc Warren, Jack Senior, Robin Roussel (Fra)
71 Tommy Fleetwood, Bernd Wiesberger (Aut), Rafael Cabrera (Esp), Jorge Campillo (Esp), Graeme McDowell, Jonathan Caldwell, Guido Migliozzi (Ita), Adria Arnaus (Esp), Jordan Smith, Richie Ramsay, Alvaro Quiros (Esp), Ross Fisher, David Howell
72 Viktor Hovland (Nor), Matthew Fitzpatrick, Garrick Higgo (Rsa), Ian Poulter, Brandon Stone (Rsa), Nicolas Colsaerts (Bel), John Catlin (USA), Daniel van Tonder (Rsa), Adrian Otaegui (Esp), Sam Horsfield, David Law, Pádraig Harrington, Chris Paisley, Jazz Janewattananond (Tha), Maximilian Kieffer (Ger), Robert Rock, Haydn Porteous (Rsa), Peter Hanson (Swe), Adrian Meronk (Pol)
73 Wilco Nienaber (Rsa), Sami Valimaki (Fin), Stephen Gallacher, Kurt Kitayama (USA), Lucas Bjerregaard (Den), Paul Waring, Wade Ormsby (Aus), Johannes Veerman (USA), George Coetzee (Rsa), Romain Langasque (Fra), Ryan Fox (Nzl), Thomas Bjorn (Den), Matthew Cort, Benjamin Hebert (Fra), Nino Bertasio (Ita), Edoardo Molinari (Ita), Matthieu Pavon (Fra), Matthew Jordan
74 Tyrrell Hatton, Robert MacIntyre, Matt Wallace, Richard Bland, Andy Sullivan, Robert Karlsson (Swe), Scott Jamieson, Soeren Kjeldsen (Den)
75 Branden Grace (Rsa), Min-Woo Lee (Aus), Chris Wood, Sebastian Soederberg (Swe), Justin Harding (Rsa), Alexander Levy (Fra), Callum Shinkwin, Graeme Storm, Zander Lombard (Rsa), Oliver Fisher, Luke Donald
76 Victor Perez (Fra), Tom Lewis, Renato Paratore (Ita)
77 Richard McEvoy, Antoine Rozner (Fra), Victor Dubuisson (Fra), James Morrison
78 Scott Hend (Aus), Eddie Pepperell, Calum Hill, Gavin Green (Mal)
79 Michael Lorenzo-Vera (Fra)
80 Marcus Kinhult (Swe), Thomas Aiken (Rsa)
81 Rasmus Hoejgaard (Den)
87 Andrea Pavan (Ita)