Non-LIV Golf members lead the way after BMW PGA Championship first day

Non-LIV Golf members Tommy Fleetwood, Andy Sullivan and Viktor Hovland lead the way as golf rivals take to the course for the first time – before play is suspended following Queen Elizabeth II’s death

  • Non-LIV Golf stars and rebels were in action at Wentworth, Surrey on Thursday
  • Seventeen LIV Golf players are competing at DP World Tour’s flagship event
  • Tommy Fleetwood, Andy Sullivan and Viktor Hovland lead after the first day

For all the darkness in the skies and the wider golfing atmosphere, there came an uplifting tale from the soaked grass of Wentworth as Tommy Fleetwood returned to the course in some style after the passing of his mother.

The world No 29, playing for the first time in seven weeks, endured the worst of the stormy weather but delivered the finest of first rounds at the BMW PGA Championship.

His eight-under loop of 64, achieved by a closing surge of six birdies in his final seven holes, put him in a share of the lead with Andy Sullivan and Norway’s Viktor Hovland, one stroke ahead of a third Englishman, Matthew Jordan. Rory McIlroy was among a cluster at four under in the flagship event of the DP World Tour. Play was suspended following Queen Elizabeth II’s death.

Tommy Fleetwood topped the scoring after first round alongside fellow Brit Andy Sullivan

Heavy rain poured onto the 17th fairway of the BMW Championship at Wentworth on Day One 

Rory McIlroy plays his second shot on the sixth hole amid rainstorms at Wentworth, England

Against the backdrop of the sport’s continued political chaos, which extended to Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood going against a request from Tour bosses to forego any LIV branding, the charges of Fleetwood and Sullivan were sufficiently impressive to shift at least some of the narrative back to on-course matters.

‘I was a little nervous because I haven’t played for a while,’ said Fleetwood, one of the stars of Europe’s 2018 Ryder Cup win. 

‘It felt like a long time away. It was never really about the score – it was just nice to be back and it was nice to see my dad out there watching this morning. It was the first time in a while for him.

‘It’s the right time for me to play again and this event was always the aim, but it was different on the first tee this morning. It was nice to be out there and get on a run near the end. One step at a time – we’ll see what I turn up with tomorrow.’

Fleetwood’s return came at a time when the golfing landscape is even more frenzied than when he took his leave, shortly after The Open. The 31-year-old himself was long rumoured as a LIV target, and having largely kept quiet on the thorniest subject in golf, he was more measured than most about the Saudi-backed breakaway series.

‘I have no bad feelings towards any of the LIV guys,’ he said. ‘Whatever anyone sees as right for them – and works within their consciences – is fine. I’ve had far bigger things going on to bother about where anyone is playing.

‘I’m not saying the LIV Tour doesn’t have a place in the world. Everyone wants to earn more money. But what they don’t have and probably will never have is a story like Oliver Wilson last week (Wilson claimed his first win since 2014 in Denmark). I was on the couch crying as I listened to his interview. LIV will never have that story.’

Matthew Jordan, of England, is currently in third place after carding an under-65 score

LIV players, including Spain’s Sergio Garcia, have been allowed to participate at Wentworth

With 17 LIV players in the field – a presence that has riled McIlroy, among several others – the decision of Poulter and Westwood to wear sleeve logos for their LIV team, Majesticks, may be seen as provocative. Poulter said: ‘This is a business that I actually own part of, so it has a right to be there.’

The Englishman refused to be drawn on comments from McIlroy, his former Ryder Cup team-mate, in which he said he no longer has ‘much of a relationship’ with Poulter, Westwood or Sergio Garcia owing to their moves to LIV. ‘I am not playing the clickbait game of he said, she said,’ he added.

McIlroy said it would be ‘hard to stomach’ playing along LIV golfers like Ian Poulter (pictured)

Poulter did, however, touch on the widely-distributed video of him engaged in what appeared a heated conversation on Wednesday with Billy Horschel, who called the defectors ‘hypocrites’ earlier in the week. 

Poulter said: ‘I have no problem with Billy. Billy is quite an animated guy and I am too. He has strong opinions and I normally do too so you can tell how that would look on camera.’

McIlroy carded five birdies and a single bogey at eight, where he duffed a recovery shot in the rough just one yard. He is pushing to cement his place at the top of the European standings having won the PGA Tour Championship a week, albeit while simultaneously acting as the prime spokesman against LIV. 

He returned to that position briefly on Thursday, when hearing the wish of Graeme McDowell that members of the DP World Tour should vote on whether LIV players participate in future events.

‘I didn’t know he made the rules,’ McIlroy said. 

‘At this point we just have to go by the book. Again, if you abide by the rules and regulations of the tours, by all means you can play. But if you break those rules, actions have consequences. And you have to live by that, even if they are not actually doing that at the minute.’

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