LONDON (Reuters) - Former champion Rory McIlroy recovered from a poor start at the BMW PGA Championship to chalk up seven birdies and put himself in contention after the first round at Wentworth on Thursday.
Teeing off at lunchtime on a murky but tranquil day, McIlroy bogeyed the third hole but hit back impressively to card a five-under-par 67 to move two off the lead.
South African duo Dean Burmester and Darren Fichardt led for most of the day on six-under before Lucas Bjerregaard stole their thunder. The Dane struck a bogey-free 65, sinking seven birdies to open up a one-shot lead over Burmester and Fichardt.
“I’ve not had much success around this place but played lovely today,” Bjerregaard said. “I hit it pretty well off the tee. I hit a couple of loose shots... but managed to get up and down a couple of times. All-in-all I didn’t do much wrong.
“It’s quite important to hit it straight and I felt like I did that. I put myself in a lot of good spots and left myself with a few short irons and took advantage of that.”
McIlroy joined England’s Richard Bland and Matthew Fitzpatrick on five-under and a share of fourth place after they both impressed in the early starters at the European Tour’s flagship event.
He rolled in an excellent putt on the 14th to make it three birdies in five holes and sunk a 10-footer at the 16th to move to within a shot of the lead.
McIlroy almost chipped in for an eagle on the 18th, the ball grazing the cup, but he missed his short birdie putt to end a solid day on a downbeat note.
The former world number one is playing at the tournament for the first time since 2015, the year after he fired a six-under 66 in the final round to snatch victory.
“I played really well and walking on the 16th at five-under is always good after being one-over after three,” he said. “I hit my irons better than the last couple of weeks. It felt pretty good out there today.”
Fitzpatrick saved par on the last with a chip and a putt after hitting his ball into the water.
Bland, whose best career result came at Wentworth in 2006 when he was fifth, made six birdies during his round, dropping one shot at the par-four sixth.
“I know the results are not showing it but I felt it was trending back in the right direction,” Bland said after shooting his lowest score in 29 rounds at Wentworth.
“It’s just nice to finally see something red for the hours you’ve put in on the range.”
Northern Ireland’s former Open champion Darren Clarke pulled out late on after injuring his ankle the previous day.
Reporting by Martyn Herman; additional reporting by Simon Jennings; Editing by Christian Radnedge and Ken Ferris