VIRGINIA WATER, England — Justin Rose needs to win the BMW PGA Championship to qualify automatically for a fifth straight appearance at the Ryder Cup.
The Englishman is off to a strong start in that quest.
Rose shot a bogey-free, 5-under 67 and was three shots off the first-round lead shared by Thailand's Kiradech Aphibarnrat and South Africa's Christiaan Bezuidenhout, two players for whom the specter of Ryder Cup qualification does not matter this week.
The European Tour's flagship event at its headquarters at Wentworth, southwest of London, marks the final chance for Ryder Cup hopefuls to earn points to get into the final places on offer for the match against the United States at Whistling Straits this month.
Rose, ranked No. 45, is most likely relying on a captain's pick by Padraig Harrington and he did his cause no harm by making three birdies in his first six holes and also picking up a shot on the par-5 18th. He was tied for fourth place.
"Plan A is obviously to win," Rose said. "Plan B is just to play well enough to give Padraig something to think about. I covered both of those bases today."
Rose went round the West Course with his manager, Paul McDonnell, on the bag after his regular caddie tested positive for the coronavirus.
Former top-ranked player Adam Scott played in the same group as Rose and shot 65, placing him alone in third place. The Australian is contesting the event for the first time since 2006.
Scott missed a short putt to win a six-man playoff in the Wyndham Championship last month, and an early exit from the first FedEx Cup playoff event then brought an end to his PGA Tour season.
"I've been feeling like I've been playing well and that's one of the reasons why I came here this week," the 2013 Masters champion said.
"I didn't have anything to play in the last couple of weeks so I felt like this was a great opportunity to come and play a really good event and bring back good memories from early days in my career."
Aphibarnrat, who secured his PGA Tour card for next season via the Korn Ferry Tour last week, made eight birdies in his final 12 holes. A birdie on the last would have seen the 32-year-old Thai cover the back nine in just 29 but after failing to escape from a fairway bunker at the first attempt, he had to hole from 20 feet to save par.
Bezuidenhout also finished strongly, with four birdies in his final six holes, to have the best score of the afternoon starters.
Bernd Wiesberger needs a top-50 finish to potentially move into the automatic qualifying places for the Ryder Cup, maybe at the expense of Shane Lowry in ninth place, and he was 3 over after six holes. However, he birdied the 11th and 17th, before rolling in a long eagle putt at the last for a 1-under 71.
Wiesberger would have been in the automatic places with a win in the Omega European Masters last month, but double-bogeyed the final hole to lose by one shot.
Lowry birdied the last for a 70. If he is edged to an automatic qualifying spot by Wiesberger, the 2019 Open champion might be up against Rose and Henrik Stenson for one of Harrington's three captain's picks.
Harrington strongly hinted this week that Ian Poulter and Sergio Garcia would get two of the picks, leaving one up for grabs.
Stenson has come into form at the perfect time with two top-five finishes and a tie for 15th in his last three starts on the European Tour, and the Swede opened at Wentworth by shooting 69 after birdies at Nos. 17 and 18.