The last time Rory McIlroy played so well at Wentworth it proved the start of a summer that saw him go on to win two major championships.
The hope, therefore, following an accomplished 67 yesterday (Thursday) and his best start to a BMW PGA Championship, is this proves the round that sees him draw a line under his post-Masters blues and the return of the real Rory.
It could have been even better, too, given he didn’t birdie either of the two par fives to finish, lipping out at the 17th and missing a tiddler at the last.
But the frustration quickly gave way to the more lasting impression that for 16 holes he’d had the ball on a string. He goes into the second round this morning just two shots off the lead, held by Lucas Bjerregaard of Denmark.
What pleased the Northern Irishman was playing with such control at a venue that has given him fits in the past, with four missed cuts in eight appearances telling its own story. He did shoot a 65 in 2009 but the only other time he’s been in full flow here came with his final round 66 in 2014 — that stirring harbinger to victories at The Open and the US PGA — when he took full advantage of a course saturated by heavy rain to win.
Here, he looked at ease from the moment he threaded a drive down the tight first fairway. The enormous gallery who set out in hot pursuit must have been glad they stayed the course.
‘I drove it a lot better than I have done recently and my wedge play was really good,’ he said. ‘It’s a platform for the rest of the tournament, and if I keep playing like that I’m going to give myself a decent chance.’
A sign of his contentment came when he was asked about his approach to the 18th, when he pushed the ball wildly after being put off by a trigger-happy photographer. Imagine how some players would have mouthed off.
‘It’s a hard enough shot without hearing something at the top of your backswing, but these things happen. He didn’t do it deliberately,’ said the 29-year-old. The photographer was quick to offer a heartfelt apology, one McIlroy accepted with equal grace.
The amount of Ryder Cup qualifying points on offer is ramped up from this event onwards, so from that point of view Matt Fitzpatrick’s 67 was notable. The under-used rookie at Hazeltine in 2016, who didn’t trouble the scorers in two matches, believes he would be a valuable contributor this time should he make it to Paris in September.
‘I expect to make the team but these events with lots of extra points are going to make the qualifying process exciting,’ said the 23-year-old from Sheffield. ‘My game is getting better.’
Fellow Englishman Richard Bland also shot 67 in what was the day’s most heart-warming round. Outside the ropes was his elder brother Heath, who went from having what he thought was a dose of flu over Christmas to being rushed to hospital as a virus attacked his heart. ‘He was in a coma for nearly a month but fortunately he seems to be on the way to recovery,’ said 45-year-old Richard, from Southampton.
‘We were close before but we’re even closer now, as you can imagine, and it was great to see him walking around.’
Like McIlroy, Ian Poulter is another for whom this course has proved a vexing mystery in the past. The difference was that not even Poulter’s stunning return to the top of the game this year could help him solve the puzzle here as he stumbled to a 74.
‘This course is an interesting one for me,’ he said. ‘I’m extremely angry, extremely disappointed, extremely frustrated and let’s leave it at those words because if I use any others I’m going to look like a complete idiot.’