Paul McGinley of Ireland set the early pace after a seven-under 65, a new record for Wentworth's remodeled West Course, on the first day of the BMW PGA Championships on Thursday.
The 41-year-old Dubliner produced his best golf on the second nine holes, with five birdies, playing the back nine in just 32.
“I’m thrilled,” he said after his first round heroics. “It was a great round, but it’s not the best I’ve ever played.”
Yet for much of the day, despite near-perfect playing conditions, his rivals were hardly nipping at his heels. At lunchtime, his closest threat was South African Charl Schwartzel, from Johannesburg, three shots adrift at four-under. In the afternoon, Marcus Fraser of Australia moved toward the top of the leaderboard with a 67, five-under, but other challenges, from the likes of Colin Montgomerie, Richard Sterne and defending champion, Anders Hansen, failed to materialize.
Only Robert Karlsson of Sweden mounted a significant challenge to McGinley’s dominance of the first round, with an outward 32, followed by two birdies in three holes after the turn.
But the 38-year-old’s low scoring dried up after the 12th and he ended the day with a 66, one shot behind the Irishman. Schwartzel’s round of 68 included an eagle three on the par-five 12th, book-ended by birdies on the 11th and 13th holes. That purple patch lifted him to within a shot of the Irishman, but Schwartzel’s bogey five on the par-four 16th hole saw McGinley move three clear again.
“I played really well, really solid,” Schwartzel said. “The course is the firmest I’ve ever played it and I was hitting a lot of irons and three woods just to keep in play. It’s normally very wet and the greens get worn, but now they are firm and don’t get as worn out.”
Throughout the day, low scoring proved difficult. Paul Casey of England was one of the few players to birdie the tricky par-three second, but a double-bogey seven on the 17th saw the former World Matchplay champion, usually in his element on the West Course, slump to an anonymous 71. In contrast, McGinley admitted that he was very much at home.
“The course is hard and fast, a real proper test of golf,” he said. “This is old style golf, the kind that the game was originally designed around. It’s a wonderful golf course. I love the challenge and I revel in it.”
The Irishman, among the leading players on the European Tour’s stats list this spring, admitted that his efforts to improve his putting, through fitness and bio-mechanics, were now paying dividends.
“I have transformed my putting,” he said. “I have a new understanding of putting.”
But he also bemoaned the emphasis on long driving that has become so dominant in modern golf course design.
“It’s not just about 7,500 yards,” he said. “It’s about run-offs, firmness, ball control and course management. I’d love to see the game go that way.”
While McGinley made the most of his fitness and form on a course he clearly loves, Vijay Singh of Fiji withdrew from the tournament prior to his first round, because of a pulled muscle.
The form Wentworth resident, World Matchplay champion, Ernie Els, remains in the doldrums. The South African, who masterminded the re-design of the West Course, scored a disappointing 75, after a wayward opening nine that included a double-bogey on the eighth.