Shane Lowry and Graeme McDowell have a love-hate relationship with Wentworth. Lowry loves it, McDowell doesn't.
In Lowry’s case, love conquered a mid-round wobble and two birdies in his last four holes added up to a three under 69, which was his fourth successive sub-70 score there and his sixth from his last nine.
McDowell also shot 69 to share eighth place behind co-leaders Scott Hend of Australian, Joost Luiten of the Netherlands and former US PGA winner YE Yang as former Walker Cup partner Michael Hoey showed he’s lost none of his undoubted class with a 70.
The leading trio shot seven under par 65s on a day of light winds to lead by one from Masters champion Danny Willett, whose 66 was the first bogey free round of the day and the perfect riposte to the disappointing 77 he shot in the final rounds of the irish Open at The K Club last Sunday.
For Lowry, a 69 was just about the only score that would have been acceptable to him after the had raced to four under through 12 holes and into a share of lead.
But it took some straight talking from his caddie, Dermot Byrne, to talk him down off the ledge after he looked to have thrown all his good work away by dropping a careless shot at the 13th followed by two more at the par-three 14th, where his pushed six-iron bounced off a cart path and into the bushes, out of bounds.
Lowry’s annoyance was understandable as he might have been six or seven under par had his putter been as warm as his temper over those first 12 holes.
“I didn’t take it great at the time,” he confessed. “I was really annoyed. I felt like I was playing lovely and it just came out of nowhere.
"I just hit a couple of sloppy shots and that’s golf. But Dermo was great today. He gave me a kick in the backside and a good talking to going up 15 and I finished really well.
“I showed a lot of character out there. So I am happy. I’m proud of myself with the way I handled it today.”
Lowry’s response to the two bad holes was as classy as his play over the first dozen.
He tried to knock down a tough flag at the 15th, nonchalantly knocking in an eight footer for birdie there after “a smooth seven iron” before laying up at the 18th.
“Knock this in and it’s a good day,” he was overhead telling Byrne on the TV coverage after he’d spun a wedge back to around 15 feet.
The putt was never going anywhere else but the bottom of the cup and Lowry was a reasonably happy man after the opening round of an event where he has never missed the cut in six starts and finished tied 12th, second and tied sixth since 2012, earning an average of €250,000 yearly.
“It was easy to play the last few holes in level or one over and all of a sudden I’d be here, all annoyed,” Lowry told Meridian Media’s Denis Kirwan.
"But I am really happy with my round. I holed a lovely putt on the last and I’m looking forward to the next three days.”
Reflecting on the first two thirds of a round, Lowry said: “I missed a few three or four footers for birdie so I could have been any number… six or seven under after 12. But that’s the way this course is.
“If you hit it good off the tee, which is something I pride myself in and something that is my game, you give yourself a lot of chances.”
Lowry’s season hasn’t gone to plan so far but he’s hoping the putt on the last “kick starts the rest of my season.”
“That’s the way my golf has been this season,” Lowry said of a round that almost got away. “I haven’t been getting the most out of rounds so hopefully that putt on the last will help me kick on for the rest of the week.”
Byrne can also take a now for reminding Lowry to “cop on” and get on with the job at hand after he had gone to sleep and been stung badly by Wentworth’s always dangerous West Course.
Lowry was three ahead with seven to play in 2012 and would love nothing better than the chance to make up for that loss to Rory McIlroy with a win this week.
He’s just one big finish away from putting himself in the Ryder Cup frame and so too is McDowell, who broke 70 at Wentworth for the first time since 2009, when he finished a career best tied 13th.
McDowell could also have shot five or six under par but he was still happy with 69 on a course that doesn’t suit his game.
“I didn’t know that to be honest with you, that I hadn’t broke 70,” he said when informed it was his first sub-70 since the course was redesigned. “But no, listen, a good day’s work. Not a good golf course for me generally at Wentworth. The set up this year is a little different. I don’t think the rough's quite as penal as normal and the greens are much firmer and faster
"I've felt much more comfortable on the greens, much more comfortable than I have in years gone past. Felt like I positioned the ball well most of the day today, so pretty happy with that effort for day one.
"Felt like they slowed them down today, the greens. They were super fast yesterday in the Pro-Am. I think European Tour maybe got a little scared of them and decided to back them off a little today.
"They were quite soft and receptive and a little slower and very scoreable, as the score boards have suggested. So I felt comfortable out there, which is nice, on a golf course where I haven’t typically felt comfortable in the past and hit a lot of nice shots.”
McDowell might prefer to be elsewhere but he hasn’t got that luxury as he bids to qualify for The Open and the Ryder Cup, to name just two big goals.
“You’ve got to see an opportunity,” he said of his decision to make the trip. “Especially for a guy like me who needs a kick start on a lot of levels, World Rankings, Ryder Cups, all of these things.
“Of course I want to be here and I want to compete, and I want to try and break my sort of Wentworth duck, if you like.
"So I would love to compete here this weekend. It's such a great tournament. The crowds are always fantastic, give us tons of support. When the weather is like this, it’s a pretty fun place to be, really.”
Hoey has had a tough start to the year and lies 228th in the Race to Dubai having missed his last 10 cuts in a row.
Apart from a share of 61st in the Joburg Open in January and a 66th place finish in Abu Dhabi the following week, it’s been a year of utter desolation for the 37-year old Shandon Park man.
Driving is one of the mainstays of his game but while he made just three birdie fours, he also missed just three fairways to end the day tied for 21st.
The rest of the Irish are outside the cut mark with David Higgins (75) tied 101st, Colm Moriarty (76) tied 114th, Paul McGinley (78) tied 131st, Darren Clarke (79) tied 143rd and Eamonn Brady (84) tied 148th.
asters Champion Willett lived up to his billing with a sparkling six under par 66 in his first appearance on home soil since his wonderful victory at Augusta National.
The 28 year old Englishman, the highest ranked player in the field, was the only player not to drop a shot at Wentworth Club and sits one stroke behind the trio of Hend, Luiten and Yang.
Australian Richard Green birdied the last three holes to get to five under, alongside South African Jaco Van Zyl and England’s Robert Rock, while there were also strong starts for Victor Dubuisson (69) and two-time former champion Luke Donald, who went one better to lie tied eighth.
“To be in front of the English crowds at home and have that reception on the first tee is brilliant. You always get great crowds at Wentworth. I didn't hit loads of fairways but I was never in too much trouble. I hit some great mid to short irons and rolled a few putts in. It was a really solid start to the week. We had a beautiful day today - I don't think we’ve had it like this here for a few years, and it makes a massive difference. The greens are a little better than they were the last couple years, and I think everyone would agree with that.”
“I started with a bogey on the first, so to get it back to seven under means you’ve hit a lot of good shots, and I’m very happy with that. I’ve had a couple decent finishes here, but it’s one of those courses where if you play well, you can shoot a low score, and if you’re struggling with your game, you struggle to score, as well. It’s a very tough and demanding golf course.”
“I was very patient today and didn’t hit driver much despite really wanting to. I tried to be aggressive last year and it really doesn’t work round here, so I thought I’d be a little bit cautious off the tee and a bit more aggressive into the greens. We’ll see how that plays out during the week. I holed a couple of nice putts today, too. Form for me is not really a true indication of everything. I can miss three cuts and win the following week. I’m comfortable wherever I’m playing.”
“The starting holes were difficult and I made a bogey on the first, but after that it was good and I’m very happy to post a very good score. Everything worked well today, from the driver to the putter.”
BMW PGA Championship
65 Y Yang (Kor), S Hend (Aus), J Luiten (Ned),
66 D Willett (Eng),
67 R Rock (Eng), R Green (Aus), J Van Zyl (RSA),
68 L Donald (Eng), K Aphibarnrat (Tha),
69 R Karlberg (Swe), S Khan (Eng), J Quesne (Fra), F Aguilar (Chi), R Wattel (Fra), S Lowry (Irl), G McDowell (Nir), V Dubuisson (Fra), E De La Riva (Esp), G Woodman (Eng), A Noren (Swe),
70 D Lingmerth (Swe), M Kaymer (Ger), D Drysdale (Sco), S Benson (Eng), R Dinwiddie (Eng), S Kjeldsen (Den), C Lee (Sco), M Hoey (Nir), A Dodt (Aus), M Ford (Eng), P Hanson (Swe), T Jaidee (Tha),
71 L Westwood (Eng), R Cabrera Bello (Esp), T Pieters (Bel), J Lovemark (USA), D Lipsky (USA), J Carlsson (Swe), J Campillo (Esp), M Carlsson (Swe), E Pepperell (Eng), N Elvira (Esp), J Lagergren (Swe), G Hutcheon (Sco), M Siem (Ger), R Bland (Eng), J Singh (Ind), A Sullivan (Eng), S Chawrasia (Ind), R Ramsay (Sco), D Brooks (Eng), P Larrazábal (Esp), T Aiken (RSA),
72 S Jamieson (Sco), F Zanotti (Par), G Fox (Sco), P Meesawat (Tha), L Slattery (Eng), E Molinari (Ita), C Wood (Eng), D Horsey (Eng), R Gouveia (Por), T Hatton (Eng), B An (Kor), J Wang (Kor), T Fisher Jnr (RSA), F Molinari (Ita), N Holman (Aus), P Lawrie (Sco), M Fitzpatrick (Eng),
73 G Bourdy (Fra), D Howell (Eng), J Fahrbring (Swe), J Morrison (Eng), R Paratore (Ita), M Foster (Eng), T Fleetwood (Eng), H Otto (RSA), S Lee (Kor), J Ruth (Eng), R Fisher (Eng), S Webster (Eng), B Stone (RSA), N Colsaerts (Bel), R Kakko (Fin), J Hansen (Den), O Fisher (Eng), M Manassero (Ita),
74 G Storm (Eng), J Parry (Eng), L Bjerregaard (Den), T Olesen (Den), L Haotong (Chn), A Quiros (Esp), R Sterne (RSA), R Jacquelin (Fra), G Havret (Fra), T Linard (Fra), B Åkesson (Swe), M Lorenzo-Vera (Fra),
75 O Wilson (Eng), R Knox (Sco), A Wall (Eng), R Karlsson (Swe), B Hebert (Fra), T Bjørn (Den), S Gallacher (Sco), D Higgins (Irl), J Winther (Den), N Fasth (Swe), B Dredge (Wal), M Madsen (Den), A Cañizares (Esp) , ,
76 B Wiesberger (Aut), P Edberg (Swe), G Stal (Fra), S Hansen (Den), A Johnston (Eng), W Ashun (Chn), B Evans (Eng), C Moriarty (Irl),
77 S Drummond (Sco), J Donaldson (Wal), G Boyd (Eng), M Ilonen (Fin), G Wright (Wal), S Gros (Fra), K Broberg (Swe), S Dyson (Eng), M Baldwin (Eng),
78 G Coetzee (RSA), C Paisley (Eng), B Virto Astudillo (Esp), M Kieffer (Ger), E España (Fra), M Warren (Sco), J Ablett (Eng), M Fraser (Aus), M Jiménez (Esp), P McGinley (Irl), M Cort (Eng), B Rumford (Aus),
79 D Clarke (Nir), H Porteous (RSA), R Davies (Wal),
80 D Fichardt (RSA),
82 M Southgate (Eng),
84 J Scrivener (Aus), E Brady (Irl),
87 J Jeong (Kor)