Golf: Langer inspired to early flourish

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The Independent Online
AS A LIFELONG Bayern Munich supporter, Bernhard Langer knew the question was coming. "I sure did," he said, when asked if he had watched Wednesday night's football game. "Let's change the subject."

Langer did add that he was not the sort to react to such a defeat, however gut-wrenching, by "banging my head against the wall". Instead he took sweet revenge on the West Course at Wentworth with a seven-under-par 65 in the first round of the Volvo PGA Championship.

There was also a dramatic finale to the German's round, but the only trauma was for Colin Montgomerie. With back-to-back par-fives to finish, the Scot failed to birdie either.

On 69, Monty found himself in the worst position in his threeball, two behind Darren Clarke's 67 and four behind Langer. The German eagled the last after hitting a three-iron to three feet, a shot covering 228 yards and played with a slight fade into the breeze.

"That was as pure as I can hit it," Langer said. Even when setting the tournament record of 270 in winning the first of his two PGA titles in 1987, Langer did not manage to score as low as yesterday. But what pleased him most was to achieve such a round when conditions were not easy, the wind swirling down the pine-lined fairways, the greens firm and the pins hardly generous for the opening day.

Though Montgomerie had to rush off to get a new wedge from his equipment company - the implement getting the blame for the Scot's failure to get up and down at the last two holes - he paused long enough to provide a typically succinct summation of Langer's game: "We all leave shots on the golf course. Everybody. He doesn't. He makes the most of everything."

As everybody else struggled to find any momentum in the morning's half of the draw, this was the only group to spark. From the 11th to the 14th, the three players produced 10 birdies and two pars. Clarke birdied all four in coming home in 32 and seems to have escaped from the horrid slump he suffered earlier in the year.

Part of the cure was a special trip to see Butch Harmon, Tiger Woods' caddie, in Las Vegas last month. "There was nothing major," Clarke said. "He just confirmed what I suspected anyway. I never thought it was that bad but the scores weren't reflecting how I felt about my game."

The Wentworth layout has the priceless quality of bringing the best out of the best players. "It is a thinker's course," said Langer. "There is a good combination of short par-fours and long par-fours, holes where you have to run the ball in and others where you have to fly it in."

"This is not a putter's tournament," said Lee Westwood. "You have to hit the ball well from tee to green. The whole atmosphere is excellent." Untroubled by his shoulder injury, Westwood got off to his best start in the event with a 69.

The only man to challenge Langer's score in the afternoon came from South Africa but instead of being the proud new father Ernie Els, it was Retief Goosen. A quiet character, a lack of inner belief has always been Goosen's ultimate undoing but after winning the French Open three weeks ago and finishing runner-up to Tiger Woods in the TPC of Europe last week, he currently tops the order of merit.

Goosen got within one of the lead with an eagle at the 12th and a birdie at the 14th, but failed to birdie the 17th and dropped a shot at the last for a 67, one in front of Els.

Also alongside Clarke at five under were Ryder Cup captain Mark James, Derrick Cooper, Jose Rivero and Jean Van De Velde. The 44-year-old Cooper first played in the PGA in 1978 but has rarely been successful at Wentworth. A motivating factor yesterday was the guilt of being away while his wife, Olive, moved house in Warrington. "This is the fourth time we've moved and I've been in attendance for none of them," he said.

A chance meeting with a member of the greenkeeping staff on Thursday also helped. "I have always struggled to read the greens here but he gave me a few pointers," Cooper explained. "Somehow here they don't take as much slope as you think." The greenkeeper, a Scot, took the precaution of telling Cooper: "I drink at the Stag and Hounds and I'll be waiting there if you do well."

PGA CHAMPIONSHIP (West Course, Wentworth) Early leading first-round scores (GB or Irl unless stated): 65 B Langer (Ger); 67 D Clarke, D Cooper, J Rivero (Sp); 68 P Eales; 69 C Montgomerie, L Westwood, D Smyth, P Lonard (Aus); 70 J Lomas, O Karlsson (Swe), J Sandelin (Swe), R Karlsson (Swe), P Lawrie, W Bennett, M Roe; 71 R Wessels (SA), C Rocca (It), D Carter, J Haeggman (Swe), T Levet (Fr), S Webster, R Russell, G Orr; 72 P Baker, D Howell, S Allan (Aus), J Singh (India), C Whitelaw (SA), A Sherborne, A Oldcorn, F Cea (Sp), M Hallberg (Swe); 73 G Brand Jnr, S Leaney (Aus), P Price, G Norquist (US), R Giles, W Westner (SA), J Moseley (Aus), M Mouland, D Edlund (Swe); 74 B Davis, M Smith, G Evans, N Faldo, M Florioli (It), D Hospital (Sp), R Davis (Aus), I Garrido (Sp), H Clark, M Farry (Fr), M Watson, J Spence, I Garbutt, J Coceres (Arg), P Nyman (Swe), R Chapman, K Tomori (Japan), M Scarpa (It); 75 T Gillis (US), S Struver (Ger), S Field, R Jacquelin (Fr), S Hamill; 76 P O'Malley (Aus), T Charnley, V Phillips, S Henderson, P Mitchell, M King, A Wall, P Senior (Aus), R Drummond, A Raitt; 77 F Jacobson (Swe), D McGrane, P McGinley, G Stubbington, O Edmond (Fr), D Borrego (Sp), N Connolly, A Forsbrand (Swe); 78 M Jones, L Batchelor, G Owen; 79 E Darcy; 80 S Cage, M McGuire, M Mackenzie; 82 T Johnstone (Zim), R Arnott; 86 N Cheetham. Withdrew: E Darcy.