By Brian Keogh at Wentworth
Paul McGinley struck a blow for the cerebral golfer when he carded a tactically brilliant seven-under par 65 to set a new course record and take a one-stroke lead after the first round of the €4.5 million BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth.
Exactly a year after he compared battling the lengthened West Course to fighting Mike Tyson with one hand tied behind his back, the world number 157 surgically dismantled the fast-running Burma Road track with the intelligence and precision of Sugar Ray Leonard.
On a day when the average score approached 74, McGinley’s bogey free 65 was only rivalled by a 66 by second placed Swede Robert Karlsson and a five under par 67 by third placed Marcus Fraser of Australia.
Ranked 32nd in the Ryder Cup Points list, McGinley knows that a victory worth €750,000 would put him in pole position to clinch his fourth successive Ryder Cup cap later this year.
But denied that he sees any significance in the statistic that an Irishman has not won the PGA Championship since Harry Bradshaw became first and only Irish winner of this title 50 years ago.
“Well, if you're a Man United fan you might. They believed it last night, didn't they,” he said, referencing the Red Devils’ dedication of their dramatic Champions League win to the memory of the 1958 Busby Babes
Playing partner Graeme McDowell’s battling 70 was the only other sub-par round by an Irishman and after his recent struggles, McGinley was simply delighted to get off to his fastest start on tour since he opened with a 65 in the TCL Classic three years ago.
“I'm just thrilled more than anything to get off to a good start in a tournament, because it's been a long time since I've done that,” said McGinley, who was runner-up in the PGA and the World Matchplay at Wentworth in 2005.
His play was a combination of power and finesse, such as the sweet seven-iron to 12 feet at the ninth that helped him turn in 33 or the blistering three-wood to 30 feet at the 18th, which yielded his seventh birdie of the day.
But it was his course management gambits that helped him parry the kind of sly blows that sent Rory McIlroy (74), Ernie Els (75), Darren Clarke (75), Justin Rose (76) and Retief Goosen (76) thudding to the canvas.
“It's a real proper test of golf here when it's playing fast like this and I relish that,” added the Dubliner, who dropped one of his four wedges to add a two-iron to his bag for his joust with a course that is no more than two miles from his home in Sunningdale.
“Everyone just thinks 7,500 yards is the key and is the secret to the future of golf. They talk about Tiger‑proofing the courses by making them 7,500 yards but they are playing more into his hands doing that. Firm and fast, as I've said so many times before, that’s what make it difficult for us.”
“It's very much chess‑like, very much,” added McGinley, who birdied all four par-fives. “Ball control, chess‑like, course management, use your brain, use your head, don't get it on the right side of the pin, don't miss on the wrong side of the pin, all of those things come into the equation.”
McGinley’s form has been promising this season with three top 10s and some excellent play for tee to green. Yesterday, he completed the puzzle by capitalising on his hard work with Dr Paul Hurrion, the putting guru used by Open champion Padraig Harrington.
While his birdies on the par-five fourth, 12th and 18th holes required two putts, he holed a 12 footer at the ninth, an 18 footer at the 10th, a 20 footer at the short 14th and a 15 footer at the 17th.
McGinley said: “I putted beautifully today and although my stats are not great this year and don't feel I've putted really well, it's a new way of putting and understanding of putting and Paul (Hurrion) has been a really big help.”
Playing partner McDowell, who admitted that he found it tough to sleep after watching his beloved Manchester United win the Champions League, raced to three under par after four holes, stuttered in mid-round but then birdied three of the last four for a 70.
Damien McGrane finished with two birdies for a level par 72 but Peter Lawrie and Gary Murphy are just inside the cut mark after battling rounds of 73.