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Els falls into his own trap

AT the end of an epic opening day at Wentworth, during which there'd been much cause for wailing and gnashing of teeth, England's Danny Willett led the field at the BMW PGA Championship with a six under par 65.

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 made a bogey six at the last in an otherwise impressive round of two-under-par 69.

Pádraig Harrington had as much cause to be angry when a calamitous triple-bogey eight at the penultimate hole wiped out all his previous good work. Belfast's Michael Hoey was going nicely on one under when he emulated the Dubliner at the treacherous 17th and 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. So, of the five eights posted, three 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.

Neither Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus nor Seve Ballesteros would have felt much like writing to Quail Hollow hero Rory McIlroy after he'd played those opening 10 in five over.

However, they'd have been proud of the way he 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.

Like Harrington, Els and several others, pre-tournament favourite Lee 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 prayed to anybody who'd listen as I hit it through the tree," said McGrane. "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.

"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," said Harrington.

Irish Open champion Shane Lowry and Darren Clarke completed the Irish scores with 72 and 75 respectively.