Peter Lawrie would have been an unlikely choice to become the first Irishman to win the European Tour’s PGA Championship since 1958 but he goes into today’s second round feeling bullish about his chances.
You have to go back to Harry Bradshaw’s victory at Llandudno for the last time Ireland claimed victory in this prestigious event and though six Major victories have followed since, no one has managed to land the Tour’s flagship prize.
After a difficult season to date, Lawrie may be about to change that. His six-under-par opening round of 66 gives him a share of the lead with David Drysdale of Scotland, one shot ahead of the field, and the Dubliner advanced the Irish cause.
“I couldn’t really tell you [why there hasn’t been an Irish winner since Bradshaw] but the Irish are on the up,” Lawrie declared. “We have won a couple of [British] Opens and watch out, the Irish are here to stay.”
Fighting talk in a field featuring the world’s top three but Lawrie’s round yesterday will have given him the confidence to take them on, and on equal terms. He may be ranked 211 places behind top dog Rory McIlroy but he will start his second round today eight shots ahead of the US Open champion.
Lawrie began strongly, with an eagle at the par-five fourth and four birdies in a bogey-free round that was his best score at Wentworth in 10 appearances.
“Getting off to such a great start here was important,” he said. “Missed a couple [of birdie putts] coming in but 66 can’t be sneezed at.”
Sneezing is something Lawrie has been doing since coming home from the China Open last month with a heavy cold. Despite “still coughing and spluttering”, Lawrie has got his swing back on track in the last couple of weeks having been “all over the shop” with it and his return to form was so startling it was unnerving him.
“I’m not normally massively nervous. This is a big golf tournament for me because I can contend the way I play. Just the way I played in practice, I didn’t miss a shot in practice and you put pressure on yourself then to do well. That’s why I was so nervous.”
Two of those Irish Major winners, McIlroy and Graeme McDowell, have plenty of work to do if they are to get amongst the contenders this weekend. Both carded two-over 74s, albeit with contrasting fortunes.
McDowell was left to rue a two-stroke penalty at the 18th after he failed to call in a rules official for guidance when he inadvertently moved his ball when approaching it from several feet away. Had he called in an official, he would have escaped with a single-stroke penalty but he “compounded” the error by continuing to play and incurred the two-shot penalty for not replacing the ball. Harsh, maybe, but as McDowell said: “That’s tough cookies.”
McIlroy may well be saying the same thing if the European Tour decides to take action over his loss of composure at the 12th hole, when a poor provisional shot after going out of bounds led to him throwing his club in a self-confessed “release of frustration”.
Tournament director David Garland last night said: “I have not yet had the chance to view the incident but I will be requesting a tape and if any breach of the Tour’s guidelines on course etiquette is found, then appropriate action will be taken in due course — but any decision is unlikely to be taken until after the tournament is finished.”
One shot off the lead after 67s are Justin Rose, Alvaro Quiros, Jamie Donaldson, Niclas Fasth and Richard S Johnson, while matching Luke Donald’s 68 was a group including Wentworth resident Ernie Els.
Lee Westwood, the man Donald beat in a play-off here last year to take the top spot for the first time, opened with a two-under 70 while British Open champion Darren Clarke birdied the last to close his round with a one-under 71.
Pádraig Harrington though, endured a horror start to his tournament with a bogey, triple-bogey and ended on four over.
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