VIRGINIA WATER, England — Unfancied pair Peter Lawrie and David Drysdale left an exasperated Rory McIlroy and his high-ranking rivals trailing by shooting 6-under 66s to share the first-round lead at the BMW PGA Championship on Thursday.
Playing his first event in Europe in seven months, McIlroy was so frustrated during his round of 74 that he threw his club to the ground in despair at one point, leaving the world’s top-ranked player at risk of being fined by the European Tour.
The Northern Irishman is eight shots off the lead, with Lawrie hitting four birdies and an eagle in an error-free round and Drysdale benefiting from a stroke of good fortune at No. 18 to climb to the top of the leaderboard.
His second shot found the water in front of the green but bounced off the rocks below the surface and back onto the fairway. Not quite believing his luck, Drysdale chipped on and drained his birdie putt.
“You can hit 1,000 balls in the water and never have that happen,” said the Scot, ranked No. 291.
“There must have been a foot of water before it hit the rock.”
Luke Donald, who will supplant McIlroy at the top of the rankings by successfully defending his title here, is in a large group two shots back after a 68. No. 3 Lee Westwood is also lurking after shooting 70 in calm and gloriously sunny conditions.
McIlroy missed the cut in his last tournament—The Players Championship at the TPC Sawgrass a fortnight ago—and is in danger of doing the same at the European Tour’s flagship event if he continues his struggles on the greens.
He was 2 under after seven holes, following an eagle on No. 4 and a birdie three holes later, but he bogeyed four holes in five around the turn. After playing a poor fourth shot into the bunker on the par-5 12th, moments after his second had flown out of bounds, McIlroy hurled his club away.
The U.S. Open champion described his actions as a release of frustration.
“You think about the par 5s and you should be taking advantage there,” McIlroy said. “Standing on the first tee, 3 or 4 under is the worst you should be shooting.”
Tournament director David Garland said he hadn’t seen the incident.
“But I’ll be requesting a tape and if any breach of the tour’s guidelines on course etiquette is found, then the appropriate action will be taken in due course,” he said.
McIlroy wasn’t the only Northern Irishman left fuming on a day of low scoring on the West Course compared to 12 months ago, when Donald won with a 6-under total.
Graeme McDowell ended up with a 74 as a result of an unfortunate 8 on the par-5 last, when he was docked two shots after his ball moved as he approached it while in the trees to the right of the fairway.
“The ball was actually hovering in some branches,” the 2010 U.S. Open champion said. “How are you supposed to attempt to replace the ball when you don’t know the ball is moving in the first place?”
Of the leaders, the 212th-ranked Lawrie has the better pedigree having captured the Open de Espana in 2008. Drysdale is without a tournament victory.
“I plot my way around the golf course,” Lawrie said.
“This is a course to be patient (on) and I have quite a bit of patience.”
Justin Rose of England is in a cluster of five players on 5 under, along with Alvaro Quiros of Spain, Jamie Donaldson of Wales and Swedish pair Niclas Fasth and Richard S. Johnson.
Ernie Els used his knowledge of a course he helped redesign in 2010 and again this year to upstage playing partner McIlroy and be one of many to shoot 4 under.
“It was almost perfect,” said Els, who was criticized two years ago for making the course too tough.
“There’s lots of scoring opportunities, more so than last year, so I think guys can go in with the mindset that if they have the right conditions, they can score a good score.”
Former winner Paul Casey and 2005 U.S. Open champion Michael Campbell both shot 6 over and are the biggest names at the wrong end of the standings.