Mikko Ilonen (Getty Images)
Finland’s Mikko Ilonen, a runner-up in two of his three European Tour appearances, was aiming to go one better as he started the BMW PGA Championship with a five under par 67 to set the first round clubhouse target.
The 33 year old, who won both his European Tour titles in 2007, had six birdies and a bogey in his opening effort at Wentworth Club.
That put him two clear of Italian Matteo Manassero, who finished with three fives in a row for a 69.
Scotland’s Scott Henry and South African Keith Horne were three under on the course as the closing stretch proved difficult for some of the world’s best players at The European Tour’s flagship event.
World Number Two Rory McIlroy birdied five of the last six in a 74, Justin Rose bogeyed the 17th and took seven at the par five last for a level par 72, and their Ryder Cup team-mate Graeme McDowell also double bogeyed the closing hole after finding the water with his third shot. Last week’s Volvo World Match Play Champion signed for a two over 74 as a result.
“It was pretty nippy in the morning when we started and still is,” said former British Amateur Champion Ilonen - a runner-up in China and Morocco this season. “All day I was thinking, can I get these waterproof trousers off my legs, because it was just on the edge if I could just take some clothes off but I really couldn't. I just stayed patient and made some putts.
“I've had good form this year - it has not been the best of places for me, but I've always enjoyed to come over here because the tournament is first class, the best we have. Hopefully I can pull some scores together this week, as well.
“I've never really played that well over here. I think the best I've played around Wentworth, when I was 14 or 15 - I played a tournament here when I was a kid. Since that it's been a bit of a struggle but hopefully we can turn it around this week.”
Scotland's Scott Henry, who only found out he was in the tournament as he boarded a flight from Madeira on Monday morning, moved into second place after completing a 68 which started with a bogey but also contained four birdies and an eagle.
"It was nice to see my name on the leaderboard on the back nine, it was a bit surreal," said the 26 year old, who graduated from the Challenge Tour last season thanks to winning the Kazakhstan Open in a play-off.
"I was pretty nervous this morning, it's a big tournament and the first time I have been here. It's a great test of golf and for the first time this year I could put everything together.
"There have been too many rounds where I hit it great and not converted any putts but after a bogey at the first I holed from 45 feet at the second and that settled me down."