VIRGINIA WATER, England (AP) — Masters champion Danny Willett got off to another fast start on the European Tour, shooting a 6-under 66 to be a stroke behind a trio of leaders after the first round of the BMW PGA Championship on Thursday.
Y.E. Yang, Scott Hend and Joost Luiten shared the lead on a day of low scoring in perfect conditions at the tour’s headquarters at Wentworth.
Willett, the only member of the world’s top 20 competing in the tournament, was the first-round leader at the Irish Open last week but was eventually reeled in by Rory McIlory, and closed with a final-round 77. Playing in front of his home fans for the first time since winning at Augusta, the Englishman fed off their encouragement.
”Last week in Ireland was fantastic, but a little bit more support out there being a home boy in England,” Willett said after his bogey-free round. ”Great reception all the way around. You’ve got to appreciate that and enjoy it, and hopefully, touch wood, give them some good golf to watch.”
Defending champion Byeong-Hun An held the early lead when he rolled in four straight birdies from No. 4. He covered the back nine in 40 to shoot a level-par 72 and was overshadowed by another South Korean.
Yang, who won the U.S. PGA Championship in 2009 after chasing down Tiger Woods in the final round, made a bogey on the opening hole and reacted by rolling in eight birdies – including on Nos. 17 and 18.
With Lee Soo-min winning the Shenzhen International and Wang Jeung-hun getting back-to-back wins in Morocco and Mauritius, South Korean golfers are seeking their fourth victory in the last six events on the European Tour.
”More are playing good (and) maybe better than me and K.J. (Choi),” Yang said. ”Different players, and more and more good players are coming.”
A conservative approach paid off for Hend, who had eight birdies and a bogey on No 15. The Australian won his second European Tour title in Thailand in March.
Luiten, from the Netherlands, rolled in nine birdies to bounce back impressively from rounds of 75 and 80 in Ireland.
Australia’s Richard Green, England’s Robert Rock and South Africa’s Jaco van Zyl were two shots off the lead after 67s, with former No. 1 Luke Donald starting his bid for a third title at European Tour’s flagship event with a 68. Donald beat Lee Westwood in a playoff at Wentworth in 2011 to go top of the rankings for the first time, and retained the title 12 months later.
”That was a perfect start,” said Donald, who began the week ranked No. 76. ”The last year or two has been tough, I’ve struggled to gain confidence and feel comfortable, but the last couple of months I’m feeling more and more comfortable and it’s nice to see some better results. I feel like I am on the upward path.”