VIRGINIA WATER, England (AP) — Europe’s 12 Ryder Cup players had mixed scores in the first round of the BMW PGA Championship.
None of them were better than Marcus Helligkilde.
The Dane, ranked 232nd, made seven birdies over a nine-hole stretch, then closed with three in a row to shoot an 8-under 64 and take a two-shot lead in the European Tour’s flagship event on Thursday.
Among the Europeans heading to Rome for the Ryder Cup in two weeks, Matt Fitzpatrick (66), Ludvig Åberg (68) and Tyrrell Hatton (68) had the best rounds at Wentworth.
Nicolai Hojgaard, who got captain Luke Donald’s final pick ahead of Adrian Meronk, was at the other end of the scale with a shot of 76.
Then there were the two European big guns, Rory McIlroy, number 2, and Jon Rahm, number 3, who toured the West Course and shot 72 and 71 respectively, on a glorious day at tour headquarters European where the next Ryder Cup remained a glaring subplot.
“I think we’re all in a bit of a Ryder Cup mindset,” said No. 4 Viktor Hovland, who will be one of Donald’s key players at the Marco Simone club from September 29 to October. 1 and shot 69 in his first round at Wentworth.
“It’s a little weird having to think two thoughts at the same time.”
Hovland played in a group of heavyweights including McIlroy and Åberg, mixing two established stars with another with the golf world at his feet.
The youngster took the lead role.
Åberg, a 23-year-old Swede who turned professional in June and has already won on the European Tour, showed once again that the hype around him was justified ahead of his first Ryder Cup appearance.
A bad swing cost Åberg the chance of a very low round. He hit his tee shot out of bounds on the par-5 17th hole, which he reached at 5-under after making five consecutive birdies from the 11th hole.
A double bogey at No. 17 didn’t derail Åberg, who made amends by playing the par-5 18th perfectly to grab a seventh birdie of the day.
“It was really fun playing with these two guys,” Åberg said. “Obviously the level of golf they can do is pretty amazing and for me to watch it’s pretty cool.
“I was kind of walking around and then almost pinched my arm on the fairways, but I really enjoyed it and I’m proud of how I handled it today.”
Hovland had a front-row seat to watch what many consider to be the next big thing in golf.
“Ludvig was definitely on a heater mid-round and the crowd loved it,” Hovland said.
“He hasn’t been professional for very long, but he certainly doesn’t look scared by the moment.”
Åberg, Hovland and McIlroy formed one of four groups made up entirely of Ryder Cup players as Donald looks to create some chemistry in the team.
In another start in the morning, Shane Lowry and Tommy Fleetwood both shot 69 alongside Sepp Straka (70).
Fitzpatrick, who went out with Robert MacIntyre and Justin Rose (both 72), played the best of the Ryder Cup team after opening with four birdies in his first six holes. He birdied the last from 18 feet to join Richie Ramsay in a tie for second place.
“I’m here to try to win this week,” Fitzpatrick said. “I will start focusing on the Ryder Cup once Sunday is over.”
Everyone is chasing Helligkilde, 26, who is finishing his second season on the European tour.
His hot streak of early birdies began on the fourth hole, with two of them — at Nos. 5 and 7 — being entries to within 2 feet. He made birdie putts of 10 and 12 feet on Nos. 16 and 17, before going up and down just off the back of the 18th for a 10th birdie.
Helligkilde said he was hitting “terribly” on the stand.
“I asked (my coach), ‘What should I do?'” he said, “and he said, ‘Yeah, you’ll probably play well.’ So that’s what happened.
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