The rhododendrons of Wentworth Club have replaced the azaleas of Augusta National, but once again there is a rose in full bloom as England’s Justin Rose climbed above a world-class field to share the lead with compatriot Paul Broadhurst after a fascinating first round at the BMW PGA Championship.
Rose found himself in the same heady position after day one of last month’s Masters Tournament and came narrowly close to capturing his first Green Jacket, despite playing precious little golf in the run-up to the event due to a back injury.
Fast forward five weeks and more than 3,000 miles, and Rose has returned from a second spell out with injury to challenge for one of golf’s biggest titles at the BMW PGA Championship.
And once again he heads the first round leaderboard, this time producing a six under par 66 to equal the clubhouse mark set by Broadhurst earlier in the day.
A third Englishman, Simon Khan, who was runner-up last year, continues to rise to the many challenges of the West Course at Wentworth Club and a bogey-free 67 saw him share third place with Australian Marcus Fraser, India's Shiv Kapur, who finished late in the day with three birdies in the last four holes, and Francesco Molinari of Italy.
Ernie Els of South Africa, the World Number Five and the man who has refined Harry Colt’s original layout to ensure that it poses the sternest test to the world’s best golfers, found his form with five birdies over the back nine to post a 68.
Finishing alongside Els on four under par were two winners from this year’s European Tour International Schedule - Mikko Ilonen of Finland and Y E Yang of Korea – as well as Alejandro Cañizares of Spain, Jyoti Randhawa of India and Richard Sterne of South Africa.
However, the plaudits on the opening day of The European Tour’s flagship event belonged to Broadhurst and Rose.
Rose’s 66, which mixed eight birdies with dropped shots at the third and ninth holes, equalled his lowest score in the Championship, which he achieved during the second round in 2004, while Broadhurst bettered his by one.
Playing his 51st round at the BMW PGA Championship – his first was in 1989 – Broadhurst flew out of the blocks during a sun-kissed morning with five birdies in his opening eight holes, before a lone dropped shot at the ninth and another couple of birdies took him one clear of his playing partner Khan, who later in the day was joined on five under par by Fraser and Molinari.
Broadhurst’s score was made largely on the greens as he struck just 21 putts in his opening round. “That’s the best score I have had here and it certainly took long enough to pull one out. It’s one of the best putting rounds I have ever had,” commented the six-time European Tour winner.
Rose also benefited from a hot putter despite having to contend with the late afternoon greens and the fact that his time on the practice range had been severely limited since aggravating a troublesome lower back problem in the days after the Masters Tournament.
“I putted really, really well today. I hit very few putts in practice but every time the putter felt really, really good in my hands. That’s why I haven’t too much time working on it.
“I think the greens were great in the morning and obviously in the afternoon, the poa annua grass means they tend to get slightly more bobbly. So having holed so many putts this afternoon was a bonus.
“I guess I entered the round with not so much confidence, but a kind of excitement really to be playing again. I didn’t know whether being fresh would play in my favour or whether being rusty would work against me. And obviously I think being fresher won the day,” said Rose, who has already won on this year’s European Tour International Schedule at the MasterCard Masters in Australia.
Khan, by contrast, is fast approaching the three year anniversary of his previous victory – in the 2004 Celtic Manor Wales Open – and the 34 year old would like nothing more than to return to the winner’s enclosure this week, especially after going so close 12 months ago.
“There’s no doubt about that this is our biggest tournament bar The Open. I just feel like I am playing at home here and to shoot well around Wentworth is great. It’s a better start than last year, which is good, and hopefully I can work on my putting and continue to hit the ball just as well.
“I like the set-up of the course and the shape of the holes. It’s just very clear what you have to do on each hole. Some courses you play you can not see a shot on occasion, but round here I have got a nice feeling,” said Khan.
Molinari was equally happy after his own 67 and the talented young Italian was quietly hoping that Anders Hansen of Denmark, his playing partner for the first two rounds and winner of the BMW PGA Championship in 2002, would prove to be his lucky charm.
“When I won the Italian Open last year I played with Anders in the first two rounds - maybe it will bring some good luck, we’ll see,” he said.
Padraig Harrington, the most recent player to win his native Open title following his success in last week’s Irish Open, was round in 69 and heads the group on three under.
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