An indifferent day for Rory McIlroy would be acceptable to most. The world No 1 was battling himself as much as the BMW PGA Championship field during an opening round of 71, in which for the first time in weeks he was fighting the inner toy chucker.
A bogey at the first betrayed the mental fatigue that was always going to be a factor in the fourth week of a five-tournament stretch. McIlroy righted the ship immediately at the par-three second but rarely threatened to take Wentworth apart on the first day of his title defence.
He was well positioned at one under par to make ground over the closing par-fives but could do no better than par at both 17 and 18 to close six off leader Francesco Molinari’s deeply impressive 65. “Physically, I’m all right. Mentally, I feel myself getting a bit angry out there, which I haven’t been doing the last few weeks,” McIlroy said.
“I just need to stay in control of my emotions because I feel like that’s one of the things, if I’m a little tired or a little fatigued mentally, I’ll start to get down on myself. I played OK. There weren’t really any aspects of my game I thought were really good, but at the same time I don’t feel any aspect of my game was really off. So [the score is] probably a fair reflection of how I played.”
A record first-day crowd of 20,966 turned out to enjoy the glories of this English garden on a perfect day for golf. Wentworth is a tricky course to get after, Molinari apart – Marmite, you might say, among the golfing elite. Ian Poulter cannot stand it and stayed away as a result. Neither McIlroy nor Graeme McDowell, who closed two over, have great affection for the course but they understand the importance of the event to the European Tour, and the place does look a picture in the early summer.
The early running was made by Bristol’s Chris Wood, who showed once again what a career lies before him if he stays fit. Troubled by back issues for much of his early professional career, Wood did not get going this season until March after breaking his wrist playing tennis last October.
He was in a cast for two months after misdiagnosis, filling his days watching reruns of Top Gear on Dave. A round of 68 gave him an early share of the clubhouse lead on four under par and, though he was disappointed to play the closing par-fives in one over, he will take three more rounds like his first.
“They diagnosed it as bone bruising, let the swelling go down and I would be back in three weeks. It was a nightmare. I sat at home in the rain and cold when the others were in Dubai and it’s 90 and sunny. The one positive was that I got to see Bristol City and the promotion, if you can look at it that way, League One football.
“I’m due a good run without injuries,” Wood added. “It’s been bloody difficult. My back’s been fantastic for two years. So that was finally behind me. But what do I go and do? Fall over. So I have to climb the mountain again. I think I dropped to 180 in the rankings and this time last year I was comfortably in the top 100 and looking, as we all are, to progress into the top 50.
“The hardest part was filling my days, because you can’t do anything. I read an article about an Olympic athlete in a similar situation who set himself a couple of targets every day to get themselves through the days. A 10k run say, or things I could manage. Thankfully, there was a bit of Top Gear on Dave, it’s on repeat all day.”
Scotsman Craig Lee was in the right place at the wrong time. Lee lit up the opening day with an ace at the second hole, but there was no prize to go with it. At the same hole 36 years ago Isao Aoki posted a hole in one and won a house in Scotland worth £40,000. Curtains optional.