Tuesday 23 January 2018

Harrington and Hansen lead way at Wentworth

Padraig Harrington. Photo: Getty Images
Padraig Harrington. Photo: Getty Images

Padraig Harrington celebrated his return to the European Tour's flagship event by taking a share of the early lead at Wentworth today.

Like Ian Poulter, Harrington last played the BMW PGA Championship three years ago, but now the West Course greens have been improved both are back.

While Poulter managed only a two-over-par 37 to the turn - his second shot of the day went into the trees and brought the first of three bogeys - Harrington was out in a superb 32.

The Dubliner, without a Tour victory since capturing his third major title at the 2008 US PGA, birdied the third, fourth and sixth to be alongside playing partner and Ryder Cup team-mate Soren Hansen.

The 36-year-old Dane was turning his attention back to golf after being fined eight million Danish kroner - £927,000 - in Copenhagen City Court yesterday for tax evasion from 2002 to 2006.

Hansen, who had claimed residency in Monaco during the period and could yet appeal, also has to pay back more than £910,000 the court ruled he had neglected to pay.

First prize this week would obviously help - it is over £637,000 - and Hansen, no relation to double Wentworth winner Anders, matched Harrington shot for shot on the front nine.

They were then joined on three under by England's Danny Willett and also South African Ernie Els, whose changes to the course have been such a subject of debate this week.

Most controversial is the introduction of water in front of the green at the par-five 18th, but with that still to come Els, seven times the winner of the World Match Play on the course, had a hat-trick of birdies from the eighth.

One stroke behind were Wentworth's own Ross Fisher, runner-up to Paul Casey after a dazzling closing 64 last May, Essex's Oliver Fisher, Welshman Rhys Davies, Swede Peter Hedblom and Anders Hansen.

Davies, making his debut in the event after winning the Hassan Trophy in Morocco two months ago, birdied the third, but hit back with birdies on the fourth, seventh and eighth.

Poulter, who has been having treatment for a neck strain he blamed on new pillows, fell to next to last place on five over when he had further bogeys at the 10th, 12th and 13th.

And that was nine off the lead when Willett, a Walker Cup team-mate of Rory McIlroy in 2007, made it three birdies in a row on the eighth.

Hansen reached four under as well with a 20-footer at the 11th, but could not get up and down from sand at the next - now a tough par four rather than a par five - and slipped back to joint second spot with Harrington and Els.

Scot Marc Warren was the first player to hole out on the controversial new 18th - and it was for an eagle.

Six over par at the time, he alone of the opening group decided to go for the green, hit a four-iron to 15 feet and made the putt.

Willett, meanwhile, bogeyed the 11th after straying into sand with his approach and fell into a seven-way tie for the lead.

Also three under were Els, Harrington, Scots Stephen Gallacher and Scott Drummond, Australian left-hander Richard Green and Taiwan's Lin Wen-tang.

Hansen, though, had another bogey at the 13th and dropped two more at the 179-yard 14th after thinning a bunker shot completely over the green.

Ross and Oliver Fisher both had their troubles, the former double-bogeying the 13th after driving deep into the trees and taking a penalty drop and the latter on the eighth.

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