Garcia steals Wentworth thunder from both Kingston and Ilonen

Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy plays from the bunker during Round One of the BMW PGA Championship at the Wentworth Club

Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy plays from the bunker during Round One of the BMW PGA Championship at the Wentworth Club

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With the big names absent from the top of the Wentworth leaderboard yesterday, the talk for a third day in succession was dominated by the Sergio Garcia race row.

The Spaniard’s ill-judged, sarcastic comment made on Tuesday about serving Tiger Woods “fried chicken”, for which he apologised within 24 hours, was compounded yesterday by one of the game’s most powerful men.

George O’Grady, the European Tour’s chief executive, having accepted Garcia’s apology without punishment, added in a television interview yesterday that the Ryder Cup star has many friends who are “coloured athletes”.

It was a remark meant to defuse the situation, but one that only dug the hole deeper.

It overshadowed a day when unheralded James Kingston and Mikko Ilonen should have been enjoying the limelight amid a field of European golf’s heavyweights.

South Africa’s Kingston shot a 66 to lead the flagship BMW PGA Championship by one from Finland’s Ilonen.

Garcia eagled the last to post a level-par round of 72 and reiterated his desire to seek out Woods at their next meeting, the US Open, and apologise in person.

The Spaniard was cheered enthusiastically onto the first tee at the home of European golf, something he said he “greatly appreciated”.

But it is across the pond where his remark did most damage, with O’Grady’s attempts at smoothing things over only making matters worse.

O’Grady said: “Most of Sergio’s friends happen to be coloured athletes in the United States.”

O’Grady later apologised, saying: “I deeply regret using an inappropriate word in a live interview for Sky Sports for which I unreservedly apologise.”

Away from the race row, storms of another variety punctuated the opening day of the PGA with hail in the morning and a 93-minute suspension in the afternoon due to the threat of lightning.

The morning chill accounted for Rory McIlroy, who started brightly but faded to two over, while two-time defending champion Luke Donald is unlikely to be celebrating a hat-trick on Sunday night after a 78.

Lee Westwood is nicely positioned at two under par.

Of the Yorkshire contingent, Simon Dyson underwent a trial by television.

Having signed for a 72 after three-putting the last after finding water, Dyson was kept behind for 90 minutes after a viewer had emailed in questioning how he had replaced his ball on the 15th green.

Dyson was eventually found not guilty and his level-par score stood.

Sheffield’s Danny Willett fired a one-over 73 on his first competitive round in 11 weeks.

The 25-year-old has been sidelined by a lower back problem that is still not right, but with such a prestigious event he opted to play and put his body to the test.

After four dropped shots in the opening eight holes it looked like a bad move, but once he had shaken off the rust, Willett picked up four birdies against only one more dropped shot to post a respectable score.

“After being four over through eight, 73 is not bad, although it would have been nice to sneak a cheeky birdie on the last,” said Willett, who is likely to skip 
US Open qualifying at nearby Walton Heath on Monday to concentrate on getting tournaments under his belt.

“The back was playing up early in the day. It started niggling a bit last night after a full week’s work but it wasn’t painful, it’s just a bit stiff. A good round on Friday and I’m right back in there.”

Hull’s Richard Finch signed for a 72 despite a shaky start.

“I hung around but never really gave myself a chance of a birdie,” he said.

“It wasn’t what I was hoping for but at the same time it’s not a bad one either.”

Following an 11-month lay-off after breaking a leg playing football, Bingley’s highly-regarded caddie Billy Foster was back on the fairways, carrying the bag for Denmark’s Thomas Bjorn, who is in contention at three under.

nick.westby@ypn.co.uk

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