Rory McIlroy’s round falls apart as he stumbles to 76 at Wentworth
World No 2 plays the last 11 holes in seven over; Matt Wallace takes early lead after 65
Rory McIlroy looks for his ball on the 18th hole during the first round of the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth Golf Club. Photograph: Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images
Rory McIlroy’s bid to equal his career-best season got off to a nightmare start in the opening round of the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth on Thursday morning.
McIlroy has won the Players’ Championship, Canadian Open and Tour Championship in 2019 but was determined not to rest on his laurels as he tries to close the gap on world number one Brooks Koepka.
The 30-year-old felt he was more than capable of winning two of his last five events to match the five wins he achieved in 2012, but slumped to a four-over-par 76 in glorious conditions in Surrey.
Playing alongside British Open champion Shane Lowry, McIlroy got off to an ideal start with an eagle from 12 feet on the par-five fourth and a birdie from even closer range on the next.
However, he then dropped three shots in a row from the eighth and had to hole from 10 feet to save par on the 11th after his approach flew over the green.
A two-putt birdie on the par-five 12th got McIlroy back into red figures but he promptly bogeyed the 13th and was fortunate to drop just one shot on the 15th after his drive finished just yards from going out of bounds.
There was no such reprieve following a pulled drive on the 17th which led to a double-bogey seven and McIlroy’s misery was completed with a bogey on the last, after which he declined to talk to waiting reporters.
Lowry also bogeyed the final hole, but his first European Tour round since his triumph at Royal Portrush was a respectable level-par 72. Ryder Cup captain Pádraig Harrington opened with a one-over 73, while Paul Dunne had an opening round to forget, carding seven bogeys and two double-bogeys in an 80.
At the top of the leaderboard, England’s Matt Wallace leads the way on seven under par thanks to an eagle and five birdies in a flawless 65 to enjoy a one-shot lead over former British Open champion Henrik Stenson and Spain’s Jon Rahm, with Justin Rose a shot further back.
Wallace believes his decision to part company with Northern Irish caddie Dave McNeilly is paying dividends.
Wallace was heavily criticised on social media for berating McNeilly towards the end of June’s BMW International Open, where the defending champion twice found water on the 72nd hole as he chased a birdie to force a playoff.
The 29-year-old Londoner initially cleared the air with McNeilly and they worked together at this year’s Open at Royal Portrush – where Wallace played alongside Tiger Woods for the first two days – but the split came four days after the World Golf Championship event in Memphis.
“It was the hardest decision I’ve had to make in my career,” Wallace said. “He’s done so much for me.
“He’s got me to where I am today but it was a time and a decision that I wanted to be done and change something up.
“I didn’t want to keep being like that with Dave and Dave like that with me. Dave is 67 and he wants to improve every day and that is why he was my guy for so long. He was great for me and I am sure I pushed him on as well.
“I don’t think I want to change too much of me, I want to keep the fire. Around the Open I was changing my emotions inside and that was affecting the way I played.
“I hope I don’t have to make any decisions ever like that again, but it’s a business and it’s what everyone keeps telling me. There are plenty of guys out here who sacked many a caddie and this is my first one. I wouldn’t say it was a sacking, it was a parting of ways.
“Sometimes you need to make those hard decisions to go forward. I felt like it was the right one and it is producing some good stuff at the moment.”
Stenson’s 66 equalled his lowest score at Wentworth from 2001 and was completed in style with an eagle on the last, despite his putt from off the green hopping into the air from a pitchmark.
“I have always found this quite a tricky golf course with the dog-legs and little humps, it’s not easy to keep hitting fairways and with the trees on both sides it gives you a little claustrophobic feel at times,” Stenson said.
“Looking back at my career, I don’t think I’ve had too many wins with a decent round. It sets up the week nicely and I just hope I can continue with that.”
Rose’s participation had been in doubt after he injured his left knee in a slip at home, but the world No 4 birdied four of his last eight holes to card an opening 67.
“On Monday I went for a scan and I didn’t know if I had torn my meniscus or ACL,” Rose said. “But there’s no ligament damage, it’s just a strain and some bruising so I feel quite lucky.”
British and Irish unless stated, par 72
65 Matt Wallace
66 Jon Rahm (Esp), Henrik Stenson (Swe)
67 Justin Rose
68 Joost Luiten (Ned), Danny Willett, George Coetzee (Rsa), Scott Jamieson, Sebastian Soderberg (Swe), Andrea Pavan (Ita), Ernie Els (Rsa), Christiaan Bezuidenhout (Rsa), Paul Casey
69 Andrew Johnston, Francesco Molinari (Ita), Steven Brown, Alex Noren (Swe), Viktor Hovland (Nor), Julien Guerrier (Fra), Romain Langasque (Fra), Alvaro Quiros (Esp), Miguel Angel Jimenez (Esp), Robert Macintyre, Jordan Smith, Russell Knox, Rafael Cabrera-Bello (Esp)
70 Marcus Kinhult (Swe), Chris Wood, Mike Lorenzo-Vera (Fra), Ross Fisher, Paul Waring, Joakim Lagergren (Swe), Martin Kaymer (Ger), Ashley Chesters, Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano (Esp), Matthias Schwab (Aut), Tony Finau (USA), Tommy Fleetwood, Justin Walters (Rsa), Erik Van Rooyen (Rsa), Patrick Reed (USA)
71 Andrew Putnam (USA), Thomas Aiken (Rsa), Tom Lewis, Mikko Korhonen (Fin), Aaron Rai, Renato Paratore (Ita), Jason Scrivener (Aus), Julian Suri (USA), Tapio Pulkkanen (Fin), Thomas Detry (Bel), Yusaku Miyazato (Jpn), Lee Westwood, Edoardo Molinari (Ita), Kurt Kitayama (USA), Richie Ramsay, Lee Slattery, Robert Coles, Shubhankar Sharma (Ind), Haotong Li (Chn), Andy Sullivan, Trevor Immelman (Rsa), Sam Horsfield, Romain Wattel (Fra), Andres Romero (Arg), Jeunghun Wang (Kor), Fabrizio Zanotti (Pry), Richard Sterne (Rsa)
72 Ricardo Gouveia (Por), Brandon Stone (Rsa), Ashun Wu (Chn), Jorge Campillo (Esp), Branden Grace (Rsa), Oliver Fisher, Scott Hend (Aus), Shane Lowry, Billy Horschel (USA), Adrian Otaegui (Esp), Gavin Green (Mal), Nacho Elvira (Esp), Benjamin Hebert (Fra), SSP Chawrasia (Ind), Matthew Cort, Raphael Jacquelin (Fra)
73 Soren Kjeldsen (Den), Justin Harding (Rsa), Maximilian Kieffer (Ger), Nicolas Colsaerts (Bel), Chris Paisley, Matthew Southgate, Darren Fichardt (Rsa), Kiradech Aphibarnrat (Tha), David Lipsky (USA), Ian Poulter, Tyrrell Hatton, Bradley Dredge, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Pádraig Harrington, Thomas Pieters (Bel)
74 Thomas Bjorn (Den), Haydn Porteous (Rsa), Guido Migliozzi (Esp), Wade Ormsby (Aus), Bernd Wiesberger (Aut)
75 Lucas Bjerregaard (Den), David Law, Paul O’Hara, David Howell, Richard McEvoy, Hideto Tanihara (Jpn), Lucas Herbert (Aus), Robert Rock, Alexander Levy (Fra)
76 Alexander Bjork (Swe), James Morrison, Robert Karlsson (Swe), Rory McIlroy, Dean Burmester (Rsa), David Drysdale, Stephen Gallacher, Luke Donald, Nino Bertasio (Ita)
77 Jens Dantorp (Swe), Pablo Larrazabal (Esp), Thongchai Jaidee (Tha)
78 Jose-Maria Olazabal (Esp), Ryan Fox (Nzl)
79 David Dixon, Matthieu Pavon (Fra), Eddie Pepperell
80 Paul Dunne
81 Jacques Kruyswijk (Rsa)