South Africa’s James Kingston posted a six-under-par 66 to lead the first round of the European PGA Championship on Thursday on a day of frustration for Rory McIlroy.
McIlroy shot a two-over-par 74, the same score as Graeme McDowell, while fellow Ryder Cup player Luke Donald, who has won the Wentworth event for the last two years, ended six-over and is in danger of missing the cut. Paul Lawrie was a shot worse off and Ian Poulter collapsed to a four-over 76 on a day when the threat of lightning brought a 90-minute halt to the action.
However, Sergio Garcia finally did his talking on the course after the racism row and war of words with Tiger Woods that marred the buildup to the European Tour’s flagship event.
The Spaniard holed a 25-foot putt for an eagle on the par-five 18th and signed for a level-par round of 72, while Lee Westwood was two shots better off after coming home in 35, two-under.
Garcia was given a huge cheer on the first tee and a spell of three birdies in four holes on the front nine saw him move up the leaderboard, before three bogeys hampered his progress before his final flourish.
Finland’s Mikko Ilonen shot a five-under 67, a stroke better than Spain’s Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano, who was level with Scott Henry from Scotland, while Italy’s Matteo Manassero was round in 69 along with Thomas Bjorn and George Coetzee from South Africa
Austrian Martin Wiegele was four-under, after three birdies in succession after the turn, with five holes left when play was suspended for the day due to darkness.
Kingston, 47, lost his card last season, but after a consistent start to the season in South Africa showed some of the form that made him a two-time winner on the European Tour as he strung together four birdies in his final seven holes.
“You are not automatically invited into most of these events, so it’s tough to plan your schedule,” Kingston said. “It takes one good week and things change so I am hoping to make the best of this week. You never expect to lose your card. I never felt like I played poorly enough last year to lose my card and that is what makes it more frustrating. I felt like I played half decent throughout the whole season, but I never managed to put a score on the board.”
McIlroy found it a struggle despite his pre-tournament assertions that rumors of his imminent switch of management company would not hinder his game. The Northern Irishman made five bogeys in six holes from the 14th, while McDowell handed in the same score of 74 after a horrific double-bogey seven on the last.
A frustrated McIlroy said: “It was tricky. The conditions obviously were not ideal so it is tough to shoot a low score out there. I felt I was doing well after the first 12 holes, but I just let the round get away from me. In the first 12 holes I didn’t really miss a shot, but I am not getting as much out of my rounds as I should do.”
Meanwhile, the head of the European Tour apologized on Thursday for using the term “colored” during a live television interview in which he was reacting to the spat between Tiger Woods and Sergio Garcia.
European Tour CEO George O’Grady said that “most of Sergio’s friends are colored athletes in the United States.”
The word “colored” is considered an antiquated and offensive term in some countries when referring to black people.
“I deeply regret using an inappropriate word in a live interview for Sky Sports for which I unreservedly apologize,” O’Grady said in a statement released later on Thursday.
Woods and Garcia have exchanged barbs over the past two weeks, dating to the third round of The Players Championship when Garcia implied that Woods purposely stirred up the gallery as the Spaniard was playing a shot.
The tension escalated on Tuesday when Garcia and his Ryder Cup teammates were at a dinner. The emcee, Golf Channel’s Steve Sands, jokingly asked Garcia if he would have Woods over for dinner during the US Open.
“We’ll have him round every night,” Garcia replied. “We will serve fried chicken.”
The remark was reminiscent of Fuzzy Zoeller’s similar comment about Woods during his record-setting victory in the 1997 Masters, where Woods became the first player of black heritage to win a major.
Garcia issued a statement through the European Tour after the dinner that did not mention Woods by name.
He apologized “for any offense that may have been caused” by answering the question with a “silly remark.”
“But in no way was the comment meant in a racist manner,” the statement said.
Woods responded on Wednesday morning with a series of tweets that said: “The comment that was made wasn’t silly. It was wrong, hurtful and clearly inappropriate. I’m confident that there is real regret the remark was made.”
Certain foods, fried chicken and watermelon in particular, have been used in dehumanizing caricatures of black people from as early as the beginning the US’ segregation era in the 19th century.
The imagery has become less common in the decades since integration.