VIRGINIA WATER, England (Reuters) - Little-known Swede Johan Carlsson took full advantage of the new improved greens at Wentworth by firing a pacesetting six-under 66 in the first round of the $7 million (5.4 million pounds) BMW PGA Championship on Thursday.
The 30-year-old picked up five strokes in a blistering outward half of 30 before three back-nine birdies were partially offset by bogeys at the 10th and 18th.
While Carlsson was flying high at the top of the leaderboard, world number nine Justin Rose had to settle for a 72 and fellow Englishman Ian Poulter ballooned to a 76.
The fifth-ranked Henrik Stenson was handily placed on 68, one behind Italy’s Francesco Molinari, Kiradech Aphibarnrat of Thailand and Scott Jamieson of Scotland.
The Wentworth greens were dug up and re-seeded after last year’s tournament to make them less bumpy, a frequent complaint of the players in the past.
Four of the 18 putting surfaces were also reshaped while five more were partially rebuilt. In addition, a ‘sub-air system’ was installed to help make them firmer and faster while new irrigation and drainage was introduced.
”They are so good,“ said Carlsson of the changes. ”I love this golf course right now.
“It has become so much better and I think a lot of the other players probably agree with me,” he told reporters on a glorious summer day on the outskirts of London.
Carlsson is ranked 386th in the world and is still chasing his first victory as a professional.
The Swede said the key to his performance on Thursday was the way he played down the importance of the European Tour’s flagship competition.
“It’s a big event and you kind of feel it a little bit with the atmosphere,” he explained.
“I decided before I went out that I was just going to try to break it down and make it small.”
British Open winner Stenson made rapid strides with four birdies on the inward half but said it had been tricky to read some of the greens at the start.
“The first year, before everything settles in, there are a lot of little breaks and I had a hard time finding the right lines early on but I got a couple in on the back nine and kept it pretty tidy,” said the Swede.
Olympic champion Rose described his round as a “fun day” despite treading water by parring each of the last nine holes.
“Great crowds, great weather. It was nice to be out there,” said the Englishman after 20,692 fans turned up for the first tournament of the European Tour’s new money-spinning eight-event Rolex Series.
Several competitors wore black ribbons in tribute to the 22 people killed after the suicide bombing in Manchester earlier this week.
The golf was also briefly halted at 11am local time as players and spectators observed a minute’s silence for the victims.
Editing by Ken Ferris