VIRGINIA WATER, England – Luke Donald closed in on golf’s top ranking after shooting a 7-under 64 in the incomplete first round of the BMW PGA Championship on Thursday, leading by two strokes and finishing eight ahead of world No. 1 Lee Westwood.
Donald mastered the wet and windy conditions at the West Course at Wentworth to equal his lowest European Tour round. He made a run of five birdies in seven holes from No. 4 onward, then made three more which were offset by a single bogey.
“That was probably one of the best rounds I’ve ever played,” said Donald, last year’s runner-up. “It was tough conditions out there. The wind was swirling. There was some rain showers, and this isn’t an easy course in the best of conditions. So to pretty much have total control of the golf ball today doesn’t happen very often in golf, but that’s how I felt today. I was just seeing the shots and was able to hit them.
“The goal is to try and win this event, and if I finish ahead of Lee, then great,” he added.
The Englishman needs to outperform Westwood to take the top spot. He has already missed out on two opportunities this season, losing to Brandt Snedeker in a playoff at The Heritage in April and going down to Ian Poulter in the final of the World Match Play event in Spain last weekend.
Donald has had trouble closing out strokeplay tournaments, having won only one in the past five years. He has, however, picked up the Accenture Match Play title in Arizona in February as part of eight straight top-10 finishes in a remarkable run of consistency.
“Top 10s are nice but winning is what’s important,” said Donald, who had previously shot a 64 on the European Tour three times. “I thought anything under par was going to be a good round – 1, 2 under was going to be a solid round. I certainly didn’t expect to come out here and shoot 7 under.”
Westwood made a double-bogey after a penalty drop at No. 6 to go with two bogeys in a 72. He then had to undergo a random doping test but joked the testers had the wrong man.
“They should drug-test Luke after a 64. I can’t quite figure that one out. It’s a very good score,” he said, before criticizing his own form on the greens. “When the longest putt you hole is 5 feet, you’re going to struggle to shoot 7 under in these kind of conditions, which is really the story of the day for me.”
The round was suspended because of bad light with five groups still out on the course, including Oscar Floren of Sweden, who was at 4 under with four holes to play.
Matteo Manassero of Italy, who became the youngest winner on the European Tour at 17 years, 188 days last October, shot a 66 to tie for second with Johan Edfors of Sweden.
English pair Ross McGowan and Poulter and Bradley Dredge of Wales all shot 68s, one stroke ahead of a group that included winning European Ryder Cup captain Colin Montgomerie.
Montgomerie, the champion in 1998, ’99 and 2000 who is now ranked No. 462, found some of his old form by holing birdies at three of the first four holes to reach the turn in 30. But five bogeys on the back nine ruined his brilliant start.
His seven birdies ensured he still matched his best round of the season, and Montgomerie is well placed to make his first top-10 finish in more than 2 1/2 years.
“In certain ways, it’s disappointing to only finish 2 under after that start, a flying start. But at the same time, it is tricky. Anybody that breaks 70 today has done extremely well,” said Montgomerie, who revealed that his regular caddie had left him to join Ryder Cup player Francesco Molinari.
Rory McIlroy continued his indifferent form since his 14-stroke turnaround after starting the final round of The Masters leading by four shots. He hit a 76 on Thursday, following on from his group-stage exit at the World Match Play.
PGA Championship holder Martin Kaymer of Germany, who also has a chance to become No. 1, shot a 74. Playing partner Charl Schwartzel, the Masters champion, had a terrible start to his round with double bogeys on holes 3 and 5 before signing for a 79.
Jose Maria Olazabal, the next European Ryder Cup captain, was one of three players to pull out during a round that was interrupted for 36 minutes due to thunder and lightning. A back problem forced his exit after seven holes, joining Robert-Jan Derksen (rib) and Paul Waring (hand) in withdrawing.