Els leads as McIlroy falters
Updated: May 25, 2012, 09:42
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Ernie Els outshone playing partner Rory McIlroy to set the early pace in the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth today.
On the receiving end of some fierce criticism when his toughening up of the course was unveiled two years ago, Els has made further changes since to try to make it more user-friendly and showed what was possible.
The 42-year-old was off and running with a 12-foot putt at the short second and added further birdies at the fourth, sixth and seventh to turn in a four-under-par 31.
He was a stroke ahead of fellow South African George Coetzee, Austria's recent winner Bernd Wiesberger and Scot Marc Warren, who in the first group of the day eagled the 531-yard 12th - back as a par five this year.
McIlroy, playing in Europe as world number one for the first time, did not have to wait that long for an eagle - he made three on the 552-yard fourth.
That followed a bogey on the short second, however, after he had gone over the green and left his chip nine feet short and it continued to be a round of fluctuating fortunes for the 23-year-old Irishman.
He birdied the 396-yard seventh to reach two under, but bogeyed the next two. On level par he was part of a group that included third-ranked Lee Westwood.
Loser of a play-off to Luke Donald a year ago - it cost him the number one spot - Westwood double-bogeyed the 465-yard third after going long and left with his approach and three-putting, but came back with birdies at the long fourth and 391-yard eighth.
Worst start of all came from three-time major winner Padraig Harrington. After bogeying the first the Dubliner had two in a bunker on the next and three-putted for a triple bogey six.
He did birdie the fourth, but remained three over after seven holes.
Scot Martin Laird was playing with McIlroy and Els and he was a real mixed bag on his debut in the European Tour's flagship event.
The US-based 29-year-old, joint runner-up in the Players Championship a fortnight ago, bogeyed the first two, birdied the fourth and fifth, then bogeyed the eighth and ninth for a two over par front nine of 37.
Donald, trying to join Nick Faldo and Colin Montgomerie as the only players to make a successful defence of the title, was among the later starters.
Warren birdied the par-five last from 10 feet to set the target of 68, four under, and said: "Conditions were perfect and it was nice to be out first."
He was in the joint lead for only a few minutes as Els had his fifth birdie on the 12th.
McIlroy, on the other hand, had his third successive bogey at the short 10th, missing from six feet, and then hit his second shot out of bounds on the 12th.
It resulted in a bogey six and at two over he was seven adrift of the man alongside him.
Westwood bogeyed the 11th following a poor drive but almost eagled the next from 30 feet, and with another birdie from 10 feet on the 13th climbed to one under.