On calm reflection, Rory McIlroy should be perfectly happy with his lowest career opening round at the PGA Championship at Wentworth. The Northern Irishman’s five-under 67 marked only the seventh time in 25 attempts that he has returned a sub-70 scorecard in the tournament. His post-round annoyance stemmed from the fact this appeared to be the highest number he could have posted.
McIlroy’s second shot to the par-five 18th was disrupted by an errant camera click. Irritation over that moment had just subsided when the 29-year-old missed a three-foot birdie putt. Such a troubled finish didn’t at all represent what had gone before.
“These things happen, I’m sure he didn’t mean it,” said McIlroy, who received an apology from the photographer in question in perfect grace. “It’s a tough enough shot without something going off at the top of your swing, but it’s fine.
“I think I did everything pretty well out there. I thought I gave myself a lot of chances, I took most of them. I’m a little frustrated I couldn’t get a birdie or two out of the last couple of holes but, overall, a really good start.”
McIlroy dropped two shots, both on the front nine, with seven birdies more than atoning for that.
After a low-key display at the Wells Fargo Championship and a missed cut at the Players Championship, this marked a sharp improvement. An early Friday tee-time affords opportunity to make further statements in this, an event McIlroy won in stunning fashion four years ago.
“If I can hit the ball like I did today over the next three days, I think I’ll be right there,” he added. “I played a lot better today than I have done the last couple of weeks so it’s a good step in the right direction.”
By close of play McIlroy trailed the pacesetting Lucas Bjerregaard by two shots. The Dane had played the outward nine in just 31 strokes while the South African duo Dean Burmester and Darren Fichardt pieced together fine 66s.
Matthew Fitzpatrick, like McIlroy, signed for a 67, as did Richard Bland. The 45-year-old Bland has not won on the European Tour since joining in 2002.
Shane Lowry was five under on the 18th but an encounter with bushes and a lake meant the Offaly golfer took seven and had to make do with a 69.
Paul Dunne had his own troubles on the 18th, a bogey six dropping him back to one under as he signed for a 71, while Graeme McDowell made par on the closing hole as he matched that mark.
Pádraig Harrington was the only Irish golfer to make a birdie on the closing hole, but it offered little in the way of redemption after he totted up a card featuring two double bogeys in a six-over 78. Former Ryder Cup captain Darren Clarke had to pull out of the tournament after injuring an ankle on Wednesday. – Guardian Service
British and Irish unless stated, par 72
65 Lucas Bjerregaard (Den)
66 Dean Burmester (Rsa), Darren Fichardt (Rsa)
67 Richard Bland, Rory McIlroy, Sam Horsfield, Matthew Fitzpatrick
68 Kiradech Aphibarnrat (Tha), Lasse Jensen (Den), Mikko Korhonen (Fin), Chris Paisley, Nino Bertasio (Ita), Bradley Dredge
69 Richie Ramsay, Maximilian Kieffer (Ger), Charlie Ford, Alex Noren (Swe), Branden Grace (Rsa), Matthew Southgate, Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano (Esp), Thongchai Jaidee (Tha), Hideto Tanihara (Jp), James Morrison, Robert Rock, Sebastien Gros (Fra), Thorbjorn Olesen (Den), Shane Lowry, Fabrizio Zanotti (Par)
70 Francesco Molinari (Ita), Daniel Brooks, Ryan Fox (Nzl), Martin Kaymer (Ger), Andrew Dodt (Aus), Adrien Saddier (Fra), Alexander Levy (Fra), Tommy Fleetwood, David Lipsky (USA), Erik Van Rooyen (Rsa), Benjamin Hebert (Fra), Lee Westwood
71 Mikko Ilonen (Fin), Ross Fisher, Alexander Bjork (Swe), Bradley Neil, Marc Warren, Paul Dunne, Soomin Lee (Kor), Graeme McDowell, Paul O'Hara, Nicolas Colsaerts (Bel), Alvaro Quiros (Esp), Andy Sullivan, Trevor Immelman (Rsa), Stephen Gallacher, Jordan Smith, Dylan Frittelli (Rsa)
72 Thomas Aiken (Rsa), Matt Wallace, Joakim Lagergren (Swe), Ashun Wu (Chn), Jorge Campillo (Esp), Aaron Rai, Pablo Larrazabal (Esp), James Heath, Eddie Pepperell, Gavin Green (My), Thomas Detry (Bel), Rafael Cabrera-Bello (Esp), Mike Lorenzo-Vera (Fra), Chris Wood, Matthieu Pavon (Fra), Julien Guerrier (Fra), Paul Casey
73 Andrew Johnston, Joost Luiten (Neth), Brandon Stone (Rsa), Carlos Pigem (Esp), Jacques Kruyswijk (Rsa), Peter Hanson (Swe), Robert Karlsson (Swe), Scott Hend (Aus), Paul Waring, David Howell, David Horsey, Ashley Chesters, Jin-ho Choi (Kor), Haotong Li (Chn), Andres Romero (Arg), Andrea Pavan (Ita), Tyrrell Hatton, Sam Brazel (Aus), Oliver Farr
74 Marcus Kinhult (Swe), Byeong-Hun An (Kor), Renato Paratore (Ita), Phachara Khongwatmai (Tha), Adam Bland (Aus), Julian Suri (USA), Jeff Winther (Den), Rak hyun Cho (Kor), S.S.P Chawrasia (Ind), Haydn Porteous (Rsa), Callum Shinkwin, Scott Fernandez (Esp), Robert Coles, David Drysdale, Chris Hanson, Jeunghun Wang (Kor), Ian Poulter, Jens Dantorp (Swe)
75 Ricardo Gouveia (Por), Harold Varner III (USA), Matteo Manassero (Ita), Oliver Fisher, Scott Jamieson, Jason Scrivener (Aus), Thomas Bjorn (Den), Ernie Els (Rsa), Wade Ormsby (Aus), Nacho Elvira (Esp), Adrian Otaegui (Esp), Marcus Fraser (Aus), Gregory Havret (Fra), Daniel Willett, Daniel Im (USA), George Coetzee (Rsa), Jason Norris (Aus), Brett Rumford (Aus), Jamie Donaldson, Gregory Bourdy (Fra), Pedro Oriol (Esp), Thomas Pieters (Bel)
76 Soren Kjeldsen (Den), Marcel Siem (Ger), Ryan Evans, Richard Sterne (Rsa), Raphael Jacquelin (Fra)
77 Tapio Pulkkanen (Fin), Clement Sordet (Fra), Lee Slattery
78 Chase Koepka (USA), Romain Wattel (Fra), Austin Connelly (Can), Zander Lombard (Rsa), Richard Wallis, Edoardo Molinari (Ita), Pádraig Harrington
80 Steven Brown
85 Gavin Hay