Marc Warren in fine shape on West Course

MARC Warren is no slouch in golf’s big-hitting stakes. Unlike many of those bombers, however, he’s not one-dimensional.

Marc Warren of Scotland hits a shot on the 13th hole during yesterdays opening round of the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth. Picture: Getty
Marc Warren of Scotland hits a shot on the 13th hole during yesterdays opening round of the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth. Picture: Getty

The Scot likes nothing more than a course that requires shot-shaping. Like the West Course at Wentworth, for example.

That particular test brought out the best in the 34-year-old two years ago, when he got into a play-off in the BMW PGA Championship only to be denied by Matteo Manassero as the Italian became the youngest winner of the European Tour’s flagship event.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

It got his juices flowing again yesterday as Warren carded a four-under-par 68 to sit joint third, three behind pacesetter Francesco Molinari, after the opening round of the same tournament. The Scot did most of his good work on the front nine, picking up birdies at the first, fourth, fifth and eighth to be out in 31. After dropping his only shot of the day at the 13th, he was delighted to save pars at the next three holes before signing off with a birdie 4.

“I’m absolutely delighted with four-under as the wind was getting up as the day went on and the greens were getting a little bit longer as well. It was a tough afternoon,” said Warren of an effort that was bettered by only Molinari, who birdied the last two holes as he stormed home in 32, and Swede Robert Karlsson, who signed for a 67.

“I had a really good front nine, playing solid tee to green,” added the three-times European Tour winner. “I think this course can ask the question of you as you have to shape it both ways, high and low, and on the front nine I was up to the task.”

Having required to be both high and hit with a fade, he described a 5-wood from 243 yards that set up a tap-in birdie at the 18th as the “best shot of the day”. Equally pleasing, though, was the fact he’d arrived there without having suffered any further slippage after that dropped shot at the 13th.

He holed a six-footer to save par at the 14th, produced a “kind of Mickelson-esque dramatic flop shot” to do likewise at the next then completed a hat-trick of boosts with a “feel shot that had nothing predictable about it” from the rough at the edge of a bunker at the 16th. “All that kept the momentum going,” he confessed.

His career has gained momentum since chalking up a third European Tour triumph in the Made in Denmark event last August. He finished second in Qatar earlier this year and also produced a strong performance in the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral.

“I feel really comfortable when I see my name on the leaderboard now,” admitted Warren. “It’s not that I expect it because expectations in this game can be really dangerous. One of the things I’ve got going for me right now as far as golf goes is I don’t expect too much of myself. I try and let all the hard work in my game come to the fore.”

Reflecting on his close shave here two years ago, he added: “I didn’t do anything wrong so there was definitely no disappointment. But it’s definitely one of those tournaments where, after you come so close, it definitely gets you fired up when you come back. As Justin Rose said, this is a bucket list tournament.”

Like Warren, Molinari is hoping to use this event to lock down a place in next month’s US Open at Chambers Bay. The Italian, who is 66th in the world rankings and needs to be in the top 60 come Monday, made the perfect start as he built on a confidence-boosting second place behind James Morrison in the Spanish Open last Sunday. “It will be great to have a good week and qualify for the US Open and the Open,” admitted Molinari. “I missed the Masters this year and it wasn’t a nice feeling.”

More so, perhaps, at a time when he’s been playing mainly on the PGA Tour. “I think it’s been a good start to the year,” he added, having missed out on last year’s Ryder Cup at Gleneagles following a dip in form. “It’s a new tour for me, new courses, so it’s challenging. But I think it’s helping my game.”

In front of a record first-day crowd of close to 21,000, defending champion and world No 1 Rory McIlroy found himself fighting frustration as he opened with a 71. He tossed his club away after sending a chip flying from one side of the 17th green to the other, needing a deft touch with the next one to salvage his par.

“There weren’t really any aspects of my game I thought were really good, but, at the same time, I don’t feel any aspect of my game was really off. So it was probably a fair reflection of how I played,” he admitted.

In truth, it wasn’t a bad effort given that McIlroy has hardly had a chance to catch his breath since arriving here on Monday straight from his seven-shot success in the Wells Fargo Championship in Charlotte. “Physically I’m all right; mentally I’m a little tired and I can feel myself getting a bit angry out there, which I haven’t been doing the last few weeks. I need to stay in control of my emotions because if I’m a little tired or a little fatigued mentally I’ll start to be hard on myself and start to get down on myself.”

While Molinari is leading the way, the race is already over for his younger brother, Edoardo. He became the fourth withdrawal of the day after Stephen Gallacher, Padraig Harrington and Anthony Wall had all suffered the same fate. In Gallacher’s case, it was down to tendonitis in his left wrist, but the Scot is hopeful he’ll be OK for next week’s Irish Open. The same applies to Harrington, who only lasted two holes due to a shoulder injury.

Wall’s withdrawal led another Italian, Renato Paratore, to make a mad dash from Rome to make it in time, arriving at Heathrow with just over an hour to spare then getting to the course with only ten minutes to get himself ready. He didn’t even have time to go home to get his clubs, having been out and about when the call came through. Armed with a set of borrowed sticks, the youngster found it a struggle as he signed for an 80 late in the day.

While Warren undoubtedly took pride of place among the Scottish contingent, a 71 also constituted a decent start for Richie Ramsay while Chris Doak and Greig Hutcheon had matching 72s.