Disastrous triple-bogey wrecks Padraig’s day
AT the end of an epic opening day at Wentworth, during which there'd been much cause for wailing and gnashing of teeth, how fitting it was to see the son of a preacher man leading the congregation at the BMW PGA Championship.
Okay, Danny Willett's dad is a Church of England vicar from Sheffield, but the 'record' six-under par 65 the 22-year-old shot on the West Course yesterday was of near-biblical proportions, especially as it included nine birdies.
There was a touch of kismet, meanwhile, when Ernie Els, responsible for the latest €8m-plus re-Genesis at Wentworth, figuratively fell into his own trap at 18, pulling his approach shot into the brook which, controversially, now runs past the front and down the left of the final hole.
The South African's face was like thunder after his humbling bogey-six at the last and he took little consolation from shooting an otherwise impressive round of two-under par 69.
Padraig Harrington had as much cause to be angry when a calamitous triple-bogey eight at the penultimate hole wiped-out all of his good work ... Belfast's Michael Hoey was going nicely on one-under when he 'emul-eight-ed' the Dubliner at the treacherous 17th and then took seven at the last for a 75.
David Higgins, who qualified for the European Tour's flagship event by winning last year's PGA Irish Region Order of Merit, also had an eight on his card, this time at the tricky par-four 15th, as he opened with an 80. So, of the five eights posted yesterday, three of them were endured by Irishmen.
Typically, Harrington shrugged off his stroke of misfortune. "I'm not going to be a bit disappointed about a bad tee shot on 17. These things happen. You've just got to get on with it," said Harrington after signing for his level-par 71, which left him one inside the projected cut mark at sunset in Surrey.
Any angst the Dubliner might have felt certainly would have cleared-up as he gave a two-hour clinic at Wentworth yesterday afternoon to a group representing the Special Olympic movement, who appointed Harrington as their Global Ambassador a fortnight back.
Quail Hollow hero Rory McIlroy would have needed the patience of Job to keep his temper after failing with his first attempt to get out of a greenside bunker at the short 10th hole.
This time the Holywood youngster's ball rolled back into his own footprint and, after hacking it out, McIlroy must be forgiven for leaning so hard on his lob-wedge in exasperation, he bent it completely out of shape and had to rely on his 54-degree wedge for the remainder of the round.
Neither Arnie Palmer, Jack Nicklaus nor Seve Ballesteros would have felt much like writing to McIlroy after he'd played those opening 10 in five-over.
However, they'd have been proud of the way in which the 21-year-old regained his composure. McIlroy landed his first birdie of the day at 16; followed up with another at 17 and eventually posted a three-over par 74 that gave him a reasonable chance of making the cut with 68 or better today, assuming he manages to iron-out the minor kink in his swing yesterday.
Not to be outdone by McIlroy, whom he beat into second place in the race to Dubai last November, pre-tournament favourite Lee Westwood also lost his rag after playing the 10th in double-bogey five, kicking the tee marker on 11 so hard, he visibly winced in pain and spent a while massaging his right ankle.
Like Harrington, Els and several others, Westwood had been three-under after his first six holes yesterday, but had to be satisfied with a one-under 70 as Wentworth Mark II showed its teeth.
Just four of Ireland's 11 protagonists dipped below par yesterday, a brace of birdie fours at the final two holes putting Gareth Maybin at the head of the green brigade on three-under, with Damien McGrane next on 69. After back-to-back birdies at 16 and 17, Kells-man McGrane admitted he'd resorted to prayer over at least two of the five shots he played for an immense par at the last.
"I drove into the right rough at 18 and got a flyer with a 9-iron, it went about 180 yards, landing underneath a tree on the right," explained McGrane, who had to step right in between the branches for his next shot with a wedge.
"I prayed to anybody who'd listen as I hit it through the tree, across the water and the green into the bunker. Then I'd more praying to do. I'd a really bad lie but I played a respectable shot and holed the putt from about 15 or 16 feet. A good par and a solid round overall."
Portrush's Graeme McDowell and Dubliner Peter Lawrie both were pleased to open with one-under par 70s, while Harrington, just one shot further back with Paul McGinley, certainly wasn't ruling out his victory chances, despite his catastrophe at 17.
"It's not my favourite hole," admitted Harrington. "It's a tough tee shot and I kind of didn't want to hit driver. So I baled out right, got stuck (behind) a tree. I really had nowhere to go, but back to the tee, but didn't fancy that, so I chipped it forward into a bush and took a penalty drop. I hit a lovely fifth shot and should have got it up and down. It was a straightforward chip and run, but I didn't hit it particularly well and then missed the putt.
"If I was disappointed with anything it was the chip there and the fact that a couple of decent putts at 17 and 18 just slipped past the hole on the high side."
Harrington finds Wentworth 'much easier' than before, thanks to the 18 new, sand-based greens which have been laid on this classic course, especially since these young putting surfaces are relatively soft and forgiving, allowing him recover from a few tight spots yesterday with his expert short game.
The Dubliner played some sweet shots, not least a wonderful 219 yards 4-iron which struck the flag at 15, a stroke which suggests he can make inroads on the leaders over the next three days.
Irish Open champion Shane Lowry and Darren Clarke completed the Irish scores with 72 and 75 respectively.
There were several lean and hungry looking characters on Willett's coat-tails. Aussie Richard Green lay second after a sweet 66, while Wentworth's own Ross Fisher was most prominent in the quartet on four-under after shooting nine birdies yesterday.
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