By Tony Jimenez
Virginia Water, England - A birdie hat-trick at the start of the back nine propelled holder Angel Cabrera into a three-way tie for the lead midway through the PGA Championship first round on Thursday.
The big-hitting Argentine fired five birdies, including three in a row from the 10th, to join Ireland's Peter Lawrie and order of merit leader David Howell on four-under-par 68 at a remodelled Wentworth course soaked by heavy overnight rain.
One stroke off the pace at the European Tour's flagship event were world number three Ernie Els, who masterminded the changes to the Surrey layout, and Britons Ian Poulter, Kenneth Ferrie, Paul Lawrie, Jamie Donaldson and John Wells.
Cabrera, who was eighth in last month's U.S. Masters at Augusta, said Wentworth played much the same as it had 12 months ago.
"It didn't feel very much different because I was hitting the ball well today," the 36-year-old told reporters.
"I couldn't really feel the difference. I was able to keep out of trouble so that was good."
Cabrera's putter sparkled as he rammed in efforts of 25, 15, 12, nine and eight feet for his birdies.
Howell, who also pocketed five birdies, said his display vindicated the decision to miss last week's Irish Open.
"I have still got a bad back but it is not causing me any problems on the course," said the 30-year-old Briton.
"I made the right decision taking last week off. I am not holding back from any of my shots but I do know about it afterwards."
Peter Lawrie, the 2003 rookie of the year, made a fast start with birdies at the second, fourth and fifth. He bogeyed the seventh before picking up further strokes at the 12th and 18th.
Due to the recent heavy rainfall, preferred lies are being used in the first two rounds. The third, sixth and 18th have also been temporarily shortened, with standing water on several greens.
Lawrie said the course was playing exceptionally long.
"I have worn out my three, four and five irons," he said. "There are no short irons (into the greens) at this golf course any more."
Els was happy with his revamped layout after finishing one shot off the lead.
"It was a good test but if you played properly today, you'd shoot under-par," said the South African, who has a house on the Wentworth estate.
"The old course, conditions like these, I think you would have seen a 64. Today was your scoring opportunity."