Willett throws 65 at redesigned Wentworth

Danny Willett fired a 6-under 65 in the first round of the BMW PGA Championship.

VIRGINIA WATER, England – News and notes from Round 1 at the BMW PGA Championship.

Take your pick: The BMW PGA Championship has produced some unlikely winners over the years. Andrew Oldcorn, Scott Drummond, Ignacio Garrido are the recent surprise winners. Get ready for another. Local knowledge counts for nothing this week due to the course redesign. Maybe that’s why the early leaderboard was full of surprises. Wentworth member Ross Fisher was the only predictable name on the board. Danny Willett, Richie Ramsay, S.S.P. Chowrasia, Thomas Aiken and Nicolas Colsaerts wouldn’t have been obvious picks at the start of the tournament.

Someone will always go low: The supposedly tougher Wentworth West Course still yielded a low score when Willett managed to go round in 6-under 65. That was one shot better than the 5-under scores Anthony Wall, David Horsey and Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano returned in last year’s first round.

Kudos to the club pros: Like the PGA Championship in the U.S., the British version rewards PGA professionals for their good play. Ten spots went to ordinary club pros from around the British Isles, and some did the club pros proud. English players Craig Shave and Neil Cheetham didn’t look out of place among Europe’s elite. They returned 2-under 69s to outshine a plethora of household names.

Where did the buzz go? There’s no buzz at the par-5 18th hole this year. Most players in the past normally had a bash at hitting this green in two to try to make eagle. With nowhere to bail out now, players are playing it as a three-shot hole. With 138 players in the house as I write, Scotland’s Marc Warren is the only player to make eagle. There were 16 total eagles last year.

Westwood’s wonder birdie: Lee Westwood looked like the rest of us with his tee shot at the par-5 fourth hole. This 505-yard, downhill hole is almost an automatic birdie, but Westwood looked like he had no chance of that when he hit a pull hook. His ball hit a tree and bounced back in bounds into the rough short of the fairway. Westwood’s class came through when he still managed to make four.

Matteo’s Master class: Matteo Manassero, 17, has passed quite a few tests in his young life. The precocious Italian passed another here in the opening round. The reigning British Amateur Champion may have won the silver medal as low amateur in last year’s Open Championship, and took the honors as low amateur at the Masters, but playing with Darren Clarke is about as testing as it comes. Manassero, the youngest competitor in the history of this championship, dusted down the intimidating Northern Irish player. Manassero’s 71 was four shots better than Clarke.

Practice doesn’t make perfect: Some players didn’t spend too much time practicing their short games at Wentworth. That’s because the practice chipping area bears no resemblance to what is out on the West Course. The course features cavernous bunkers while the chipping area has flattish bunkers to greens with different grass. As one player said, “What’s the point?”

Ernie’s Frankenstein moment: The monster Ernie Els helped create came back to haunt him. Els helped redesign the West Course and yet didn’t have enough local knowledge to handle the 18th hole. Els went for the green in two shots and made bogey when his ball found the newly-created water hazard.

Poulter’s perennial predicament: Ian Poulter has skipped this tournament the last two years because he didn’t like the greens. He returned this year because of the redesign. After one round it’s safe to say his fondness for the course hasn’t improved. Poulter returned a 78. Not sure he’ll want to come back next year.

Quote of the week so far: “The golf course looks like it’s had a Botox job.”

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