It’s never dull covering Scottish golfers on the European Tour these days and the opening round of the $7 million BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth was no exception.
Scott Jamieson overcame a 4.30am alarm call to nestle himself in behind the leaders, while Russell Knox and Bob MacIntyre also got off to promising starts in sunny Surrey. Knox described his opening salvo as a “miracle” while MacIntyre came off the last green feeling “livid”. No, definitely not a dull day.
A week after leading at the halfway stage in the KLM Open, Jamieson is off and running again. Out in the first group at 7am in the new September slot for the circuit’s flagship event, the 35-year-old finished birdie-birdie as he signed for a four-under 68 to sit joint fifth, three shots behind the pacesetter, Englishman Matt Wallace.
“It was a good morning’s work,” said Jamieson of an effort that was only his fourth sub-70 score in 27 rounds on the West Course. “It was tough early on given it was cold and the ball was going nowhere. The rough also seems so thick in the morning as it’s so wet. I played a practice round early on Tuesday, so I knew going out that I would have to hit fairways early on.”
After ticking that box to open with five straight pars, the 2013 Nelson Mandela Championship winner made his score on the greens, which are way better than when the event was held in May. “My putting was really good,” he said of needing just 26 blows with the flat stick. “It’s definitely been the strength of my game for the last few years, and I just need the rest of my game to catch up.”
After opening with rounds of 68-65 to lead in the KLM Open, Jamieson finished up in a share of 21st. “I didn’t start Saturday or Sunday well as I was struggling off the tee and then I got in position on the back nine on Sunday and shot three-under,” said the Florida-based player. “I never thought the game was that far away, and I just need to find a way to keep a hold of it longer.”
Also out in the morning, MacIntyre started his debut in the event with a bogey before showing the class that has earned him three second-place finishes in his rookie season by moving into a share of the lead on five-under through birdies at the fourth, fifth, eighth, ninth, 11th and 12th. The 23-year-old had a four-footer at the short 13th to go to six-under only to miss that then drop shots at the 15th and 16th, leaving him having to settle for an opening 69.
“Walking off the last green, I was livid,” he admitted afterwards. “To walk off three-under is a bit disappointing, but I will take it after a bogey start.” Sitting 14th in the Race to Dubai, the left-hander from Oban seems to gain a new fan in every round he plays and, on this occasion, it was experienced caddie Craig Connelly, who was carrying Branden Grace’s bag in the same group.
“I feel confident on the first tee in every event,” said MacIntyre, who is on Ryder Cup captain Padraig Harrington’s list of up-and-coming players likely to be in the reckoning for next year’s match at Whistling Straits. “I’ve done everything I set out to achieve this year already and now everything else is about gaining.
“I stood on the first tee there today and was thinking, ‘how far can I get it down there’. I’m not worried about a thing, though today was probably the worst I’ve played this season in the final six holes. But we’ll go away and work on that.”
In matching MacIntyre’s score, Knox broke 70 here for the first time in five attempts, having missed the cut in both 2016 and 2017. “It was a miracle, really,” said the 34-year-old after coming home in three-under following birdies at the 11th, 12th and 15th.
“The first couple of drives were very bad and the way I felt starting out it could have got really ugly. I got my stuff together on the back nine. It’s probably one of the best rounds I’ve played in a long time. I started off like a 15-handicapper, but I managed to save pars. I had a good attitude, stuck at it and eventually got comfortable. I’m pretty happy.”
On a perfect scoring day, Wallace burst out of the blocks in the first qualifying event for the Ryder Cup with a bogey-free round that was illuminated by an eagle at the fourth to lead by a shot from Swede Henrik Stenson and Spaniard John Rahm. After a much-publicised split with Dave McNealy, Wallace now has Jonathan Smart, Danny Willett’s old caddie, on his bag. “He has come in and done a great job so far and I am enjoying what he’s doing to try to help me,” said the leader.
As Stenson closed with an eagle and Rahm birdied four of the last five holes to also get off to promising starts, world No 2 Rory McIlroy crashed to a four-over 76, having been three-under after four before suffering a wretched run from the eighth that ended 7-6.