SOUTH AFRICA’S Ernie Els gave his fellow professionals a lesson in how to play his course as he took an early lead at the PGA Championship here at Wentworth today.
Els, responsible for re-designing Wentworth’s course over the last three years, finished his first round in 68, four-under par but there was disaster for world number one Rory McIlroy and former US Open Champion Graeme McDowell.
England’s Robert Rock, South Africa’s George Coetzee and Scotland’s Marc Warren were also in the clubhouse on four-under.
McIlroy shot a two-over-par 74 that included a club-throwing incident on the 12th tee whilst McDowell was on the same score after racking up an eight on the par-five last after being docked two shots when his ball moved as he walked up to it after hitting his drive into the trees.
McDowell’s poor tee shot on the last leaked into the woods and as he approached it the ball, which was on a bed of leaves, moved. The Northern Irishman immediately alerted a nearby television presenter to ask him to have a look at the tape.
However McDowell did not call a rules official immediately and because he did not replace the ball was penalised two shots instead of one and the 18th turned what would have been a 71 into a 74.
“I don’t know what I could have done but it was a bad tee shot that caused it all. It turned a six into an eight. I should have called for the referee at that point,” he said.
McDowell’s playing partner Lee Westwood, who had a two-under 70, added: “He walked towards the ball and the ball moved. I have never heard of that before and it seems a bit harsh.”
Els made his first move by birdieing the par-three second and followed up with birdies at the fourth, sixth and seventh before a run of four pars.
Els then moved to six under with birdies at the 12th and 13th before bogeys at the next two holes gave the shots back and he was unable to make inroads at the two par-five finishing holes.
“It was almost perfect,” Els said. “It was beautiful through 12 holes and I was really in control but I came up a bit short on 14 and 15. I was lucky to make par on 18 but I was under 70 and that is what I wanted to do.”
Triple major winner Els, 42, has won just twice on the European Tour in the last five years and despite winning seven World Match Play titles on this course has never won this tournament, the flagship event of the tour. Two years ago he was heavily criticized by his fellow players for the way he had tinkered with the course, particularly the way he changed the par-five 18th.
Els made more modifications this year which have appeased the players, including making the 12th a par-five, and before the tournament began he was predicting a winning score of around 16-under par this week.
He was on course for that after his efforts in the opening ten holes but Irishman Padraig Harrington, like Els a triple-major winner, had a horrific start as he was out in 39, four-over par after a triple bogey six on the par-three second but steadied the ship to finish his round on four-over.
Defending champion Luke Donald, who could displace McIlroy at the top of the world rankings this week, was an afternoon starter and was two-under after four.