BMW PGA Championship latest: Ryder Cup hopefuls in the mix early at Wentworth

Jon Rahm in action at Wentworth
Jon Rahm in action at Wentworth

Ben Coley reports on the opening round of the BMW PGA Championship, where Rory McIlroy struggled as Jon Rahm and Justin Rose closed in on the lead.

Leaderboard

-7 Wallace

-6 Stenson, Rahm

-5 Rose

-4 Casey, Willett, Bezuidenhout, Soderberg, Pavan, Els, Luiten, Jamieson

Day one report

On the day the battle for European Ryder Cup points began, one 2020 hopeful found his lead in the BMW PGA Championship under pressure from three members of the victorious 2018 side.

Matt Wallace, who was overlooked for a wildcard in Paris last year, carded a flawless seven-under 65 on a morning which saw Rory McIlroy labour to a round of 76.

Wallace, who now lives close to the West Course at Wentworth, saved par on the final hole to capitalise on an electric start which had seen him five-under through six holes.

Henrik Stenson eagled the par-five 18th to get within one, before Jon Rahm and Justin Rose produced afternoon fireworks to add a strong Ryder Cup flavour to the leaderboard.

Rahm appears set to be a mainstay of the European team room for years to come and started his mission to make Padraig Harrington's side with a six-under 66 to take over at the top of the market.

The Spaniard, who has won four European Tour titles in less than three years despite basing himself on the PGA Tour, birdied holes 14, 15, 16 and 18 on what was his first competitive round at the long-time home of the circuit.

Rose is twice a runner-up and would dearly love to add this flagship event to an almost complete CV, which he may well do after birdies at the 11th, 12th, 16th and 18th completed a five-under round of 67 to put him alone in fourth place.

With Paul Casey and former Masters champion Danny Willett among a large group on four-under, it was clear that the move to September had helped provide scoreable conditions - although, as McIlroy demonstrated, control was still required at a course which offers little space off the tee.

McIlroy's four-over-par opening round conjured memories of Portrush, where his Open Championship bid ended before it began two months ago. Yet this was different. After five holes, McIlroy was in fact three-under and leading, but a short miss at the eighth prompted a run of three dropped shots to undo all the good work of the opening holes.

As chances came and went, McIlroy stood on the 17th tee at one-over and in need of fireworks, instead firing a drive out-of-bounds and making a seven, before a similarly errant tee-shot on the 18th cost him another stroke and, surely, any hope of a second success in the event.

Rory McIlroy on his way to a bogey at the ninth
Rory McIlroy on his way to a bogey at the ninth

Also among the morning starters was Viktor Hovland, the Norwegian who turned professional after the US Open in June and has since made an extremely impressive start to his career among the paid ranks.

Hovland became an affiliate European Tour member on the eve of the tournament to ensure that he could begin to collect Ryder Cup points, and having broken 70 in his last 17 PGA Tour rounds he holed a curling birdie putt at the final hole to do the same here.

Playing with Harrington, whose side will defend their trophy at Whistling Straits next year, Hovland fired seven birdies in a demonstration of his devastating talents on a course he too was playing for the first time.

Hovland's rise has echoes of Rahm who is a year or two ahead on the curve and, already, looks the man to beat in an event which got off to an electric start despite McIlroy's costly demise.

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