Marcus Hellikilde shot a 64 to lead the BMW PGA Championship

Associated PressSep 14, 2023, 03:31 PM ET3 minutes of reading

VIRGINIA WATER, England — Europe’s 12 Ryder Cup players produced a mixed score in the first round of the BMW PGA Championship.

None of them were better than Marcus Heligilde.

The 232nd-ranked Dane made seven birdies in nine holes to shoot an 8-under 64 to take a two-stroke lead at the European Tour’s premier event on Thursday.

Among the Europeans heading to Rome for the Ryder Cup in two weeks, Matt Fitzpatrick (66), Ludwig Aberg (68) and Tyrell Hutton (68) posted the best rounds at Wentworth.

At the other end of the scale, shooting 76, was Nicolai Hojgaard, who got captain Luke Donald’s final pick ahead of Adrian Merong.

Then there were the two great guns of Europe, the no. 2-ranked Rory McIlroy and no. No. 3 John Rahm shot 72 and 71, respectively, as they worked their way around the west fairway.

„I think we’re all a little bit in the Ryder Cup mood,” said No. 4 Victor Hovland, who will be one of Donald’s key players at the Marco Simone Club from Sept. 29-Oct. 1 and shot a 69 in his first round at Wentworth.

„It’s a little weird to have two thoughts going on at the same time.”

Hovland played in a heavyweight group that included McIlroy and Åberg, mixing two established stars with another with the golf world at his feet.

23-year-old Åberg, who turned pro in June and has already won on the European Tour, showed again that the hype surrounding him is justified for his upcoming first appearance at the Ryder Cup.

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A bad swing price Åberg is really a low round prospect. No. After reeling in five straight birdies at 11-15, the Swede dragged his tee shot out on the par-5 17th hole and wound up with a double-bogey. He then tapped in a putt on the par-5 18th for his seventh birdie of the day.

„It was a lot of fun playing with those two guys,” Åberg said. „Obviously the level of golf they can do is amazing and that’s really cool for me. I was walking around and then I almost pinched myself in the fairways, but I really enjoyed it and I’m proud of the fairway. I handled it today.”

Hovland had a front row seat to the guy many believed to be the next big thing in golf.

„Ludwig was definitely a heater mid-round and the crowd loved it,” Hovland said. „He hasn’t been a professional for a long time, but he’s certainly not afraid of this moment.”

Åberg, Hovland and McIlroy comprise one of four groups of Ryder Cup players as Donald looks to build some team chemistry.

In another setting in the morning, Shane Lowry and Tommy Fleetwood both made 69 with Sep Straka (70).

Fitzpatrick, who was tied with Robert MacIntyre and Justin Rose (both 72), started with four birdies in his first six holes to play the best of the Ryder Cup team. He finally rolled in a birdie putt from 18 feet to tie for second place with Richie Ramsey.

„I’m here to win this week,” Fitzpatrick said. „Once Sunday is over I’ll start focusing on the Ryder Cup.”

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They all chase Helligkilde, 26, who is coming off the end of his second season on the European Tour.

His hot streak of early birdies began on the fourth hole, two of which — No. On 5 and 7 — taps from inside 2 feet. He made birdie putts from 10 and 12 feet and 16 and 17 feet, getting up and down from the back of the 18th for birdie at the 10th.

Helligkilde said it hit a „terrible” range.

„I asked [my coach], 'What should I do?’ He said, „He was like, 'Yeah, you’re going to play great.’ So that’s what happened.”

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