South African pair Burmester & Fichardt lead at PGA Championship

Rory McIlroy

Rory McIlroy was a winner at Wentworth in 2014

Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy is one shot off the lead after carding a five-under-par 67 in his first round at the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth.

South Africans Dean Burmester and Darren Fichardt took the clubhouse lead as both finished on six under.

World number eight McIlroy, the 2014 winner, is level with England’s Matthew Fitzpatrick and Richard Bland.

Tommy Fleetwood and Lee Westwood both shot a two-under-par 70 while Ian Poulter went round in 74.

Their English compatriot Chris Paisley in a three-way tie on four under, while defending champion Alex Noren is on three under.

Former Open champion Darren Clarke pulled out of the tournament an hour before he was due to tee off and was replaced by Charlie Ford. Clarke, 49, tweeted to say he picked up an injury in Wednesday’s pro-am.

English pair Jordan Smith and Ross Fisher are on one under with Ireland’s Paul Dunne, while Andrew Johnston was one over, with four-time major champion Ernie Els on three over alongside former Masters winner Danny Willett.

Burmester, 28, holed four birdies and an eagle on the par-four 15th in a stunning back nine as he moved to the top of the leaderboard alongside Fichardt, who had six birdies in his round.

Play began at 07:00 BST despite overnight thunderstorms, and rain is forecast for Friday and Saturday.

McIlroy makes solid start

McIlroy, the 2014 winner, has endured a mixed 2018.

He enjoyed an impressive victory in the Arnold Palmer Invitational and has had three other top-five finishes.

But he has also missed three cuts and failed to complete the career Grand Slam after a disappointing final round in the Masters.

A bogey on the ninth pegged back the 29-year-old to one-under. He picked up the pace after the turn, with birdies on the 10th, 12th, 14th and 16th but was unable to take advantage of the two closing par fives.

“It was nice to get off to a good start,” said the four-time major winner. “I gave myself plenty of chances, drove it well and hit my irons a lot better.”

Bland supported by recovering brother

Bland, 45, who finished with consecutive birdies, revealed his brother, who was in a coma for a month after Christmas, was at Wentworth to watch his round.

“He’s still recovering, but he’s here today which is great,” said Bland. “It’s great to see him walking round. It just makes you think that even though I’ve had a tough time on the course, life isn’t that bad at the end of the day.”

Fitzpatrick, who carded six birdes in his round, said: “It’s always nice to get off to a good start but to birdie three of the first four holes was very pleasing,”

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