Bernhard Langer set off in hot pursuit of Nick Faldo’s record of four Volvo PGA titles when he shot a blistering seven under par 65 in the first round of the 1999 Championship at Wentworth Club.
The experienced German struck form with a vengeance as he mastered the early morning windy conditions with his lowest score in 18 visits to the formidable West Course.
Langer, who set the record for the lowest total when he triumphed in 1987, picked up five birdies and a glorious eagle three at the last to open up a two stroke advantage over seven players who shot five under par 67s.
He admitted: “That is one of the best rounds I’ve played here because of the conditions – the wind, firm greens and some pretty good pin placings. You have to think your way round here. It’s not boring.
“My three iron at the 18th to set up my eagle was from 228 yards and was as pure as I can hit it.”
Darren Clarke, one of Langer’s partners, carded 67 while the other, defending champion Colin Montgomerie, weighed in with a three under par 69.
Clarke, gradually returning to the sort of form which elevated him to No.2 on the Volvo Order of Merit last season, revealed that a short break in Las Vegas to consult Tiger Woods’ coach, Butch Harmon, had helped him re-focus.
“It cleared my head a bit and made it simpler. I was getting confused. Now I am playing a bit better and I am also getting my patience back.”
Also ganging up behind Langer were England’s Derrick Cooper, Jean Van de Velde of France, Retief Goosen of South Africa, Ryder Cup skipper Mark James and the Spanish pair of Pedro Linhart and Jose Rivero.
New doting dad, Ernie Els, confessed that his mind wandered often on to two day old baby daughter Samanta but he still managed to card a 68 thanks to a hat-trick of birdies at the end.
Els said: “My mind did stray a bit today but that’s natural. We are all very excited at the moment. It’s been a great couple of days for Liezl and me.”
Montgomerie, who won the title in dramatic fashion at the 72nd hole last year, started well but finished sluggishly on his way to a round of 69.
He eagled the fourth with a 30 foot putt and got to four under par after 14 holes. However he dropped a shot at the 15th and failed to birdie either of the two par fives to finish and had to be content with his three under par score.
Montgomerie commented: “We finished 15 under par as a group and not many others can say that. It was super. We all leave shots on the golf course. Everybody – but Langer doesn’t. He makes the most of everything. Suddenly at the last he was seven under and that’s exceptional.”
Masters champion Jose Maria Olazabal was in a group of players on 68 while Lee Westwood hinted at a return to form in tandem with his recovery from a shoulder injury by shooting a round of 69.
As Montgomerie pointed out: “It’s a good leader board. I think people are quite happy with it. We’ve got Langer, Clarke, Montgomerie, Westwood, Els and Olazabal all under par which is a good start.”