McIlroy pays penalty as Lawrie leads way at Wentworth

Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy.

Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy.

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It was not the grand homecoming many had anticipated for the world’s No 1 golfer.

Rory McIlroy’s first competitive round in Britain since last summer was by no means a masterclass under clear blue skies.

Instead it was another example of the kind of petulance usually reserved for the man he is ordained to succeed as the game’s dominant force – Tiger Woods.

Reacting to a tee shot that just scurried out of bounds on the long 12th hole, McIlroy threw his club in disgust.

The penalty resulted in a fourth dropped shot in five holes and an eventual 74 that left him eight adrift of the surprise leaders of the BMW PGA Championship, David Drysdale and Peter Lawrie.

The man who hopes to succeed McIlroy as world No 1, Luke Donald, fared better with a four-under par 68.

Donald’s victory over Lee Westwood last year saw him leapfrog his compatriot at the top of the rankings, and he looks in rude health to shake the top of the tree again this weekend.

Westwood opened with a 70 that he described as ‘one of my best starts around here’.

Justin Rose underlined the strength of British golf with a 67, but even in glorious weather on a fair course and amid the stunning backdrop of Wentworth – golf’s propensity to shoot itself in the foot remained prominent.

Graeme McDowell, cruising to a competitive 71, was penalised two strokes after being found guilty of a rules error in a trial by television.

Approaching his errant drive off the right of the 18th tee, McDowell’s footfall on the bracken as he approached, forced his ball to move.

McDowell chipped out regardless, then said his conscience kicked in and he reported an uneasiness about the situation to an on-course commentator.

Too late. An armchair official had already rung in. A disappointed but understanding McDowell said: “I’m not sure what I could have done because I didn’t realise how precariously the ball was perched until I was 10 feet away.

“It’s a harsh one. It’s hard when you’ve got these high-definition cameras and balls are moving by dimples. But the rules are there to protect the game.”

Sheffield’s Danny Willett showed improved mental resolve to record five birdies in the closing eight holes of a 69.

Among the early morning starters, the 24-year-old is hopeful of ‘making a statement’ on the leaderboard.

A dejected Richard Finch, from Hull, dropped four shots in five holes on the back nine to post a 76 that leaves him on the wrong side of the cut line.

Morley’s Danny Denison birdied the 18th in the gathering gloom but it was only good enough to rescue a 75 as he was left to rue his putting and mental errors on his PGA debut.

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