On a day in which he may have been content to remain in touch with the leaders at the BMW PGA Championship, Rory McIlroy admitted the mental strains of a hectic schedule are taking a toll.
McIlroy’s appearance in the European Tour’s flagship event represents his fourth of what will be five tournaments in a row. Two of the previous three have resulted in victory for the world No1.
At one-under par, and with scoring hardly startling elsewhere, McIlroy retains a live chance of retaining his Wentworth title. In order to do so, and secure the prominent placing he would love at next week’s Irish Open, the 26-year-old says he will have to battle with the game’s most important few inches – those between the ears.
“Physically I’m all right,” said McIlroy after his 71. “I am feeling myself getting a bit angry out there which I haven’t been doing over the last few weeks. I just need to stay in control of my emotions because if I’m a little tired, a little fatigued mentally. I’ll start to be hard on myself and start to get down on myself.
“I have to try not to do that over the next few days. I’ll just try and get as much rest as I’ve been getting and I should be OK. I need to keep everything on an even keel out there.”
McIlroy bridled at the suggestion of there being any extra pressure because of his success in winning here 12 months ago and the status of this tournament. “Of course it’s a big event, every event I play is a big event,” he said. “I wouldn’t enter them if I didn’t want to come here and try my best to win the thing. It’s important to me to try to play well this week. If that’s the worst score of the week for me then I’ll be doing OK.
“There wasn’t really any aspect of my game I thought was really good, but at the same time I don’t feel any aspect of my game was really off. So 71 was probably a fair reflection of how I played. There’s definitely room for improvement over the next few days.”
Among those to upstage McIlroy was Chris Wood. The Englishman, who tied third in the 2009 Open Championship, has endured a torrid time on account of a fractured wrist that was initially mis-diagnosed. Wood sustained the injury when being given a tennis lesson towards the end of last season.
After opening with a 68 that included only 25 putts, Wood had cause to glance towards better times. “The wrong diagnosis cost me about a month,” Wood said. “I had it strapped myself, I thought I would be out for just a couple of weeks.
“They diagnosed it as bone bruising, said to let the swelling go down and I would be back in three weeks. It was a nightmare. I sat at home in the rain and cold when the others were playing in Dubai where it’s 90 degrees and sunny. The one positive was that I got to see Bristol City and the promotion [to the Championship].
“I dropped to 180 in the rankings and this time last year I was comfortably in the top 100 and looking, as we all are, to progress in the top 50. These next two weeks are a good opportunity to make a opportunity to make a bit of an impact again in the world rankings.”
For now Francesco Molinari is the man to catch at seven-under par. After missing out at Gleneagles, the Italian has the motivation of a return to the Ryder Cup scene at Hazeltine in September 2016. Should he win at Wentworth, his case would receive an early but serious boost.
The first-round highlight arrived from Andrew Johnston, who earned himself a new BMW for a hole in one at the 14th. Johnston’s celebration was suitably epic – he raced from the tee to chest bump his friend, James Wood, who had run from the gallery.
“I just saw him, he looked and I was like: ‘All right, now is the time to go,’” Johnston said. “It was perfect timing.”
Padraig Harrington completed only two holes before succumbing to a shoulder injury and pulling out. Stephen Gallacher, meanwhile, did not hit a single shot after a bout of tendinitis in a wrist failed to heal despite a cortisone injection.
Better news had arrived in the morning from the European Tour, with confirmation of an extension to DP World’s sponsorship of the Tour Championship in Dubai until 2020. “This puts us in rude health before we unveil some other announcements in the near future,” said the Tour’s departing chief executive, George O’Grady.
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