Golf

Shane Lowry and Graeme McDowell make fine starts

Shane Lowry and Graeme McDowell are both four-under par and hunting up the leaders after the first round of the BMW PGA Championship and the Dean & Deluca Invitational respectively
Martin McGoran and PA Reporter

SHANE Lowry emerged from a quiet spell to shoot a four-under par round of 68 on day one of the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth.

The Offaly man – runner-up to Rory McIlroy in 2014 – has been without a top 20 finish since February, although he did hint that he was finding form again with a tied 24th finish at the Wells Fargo Championship earlier this month.

He followed that up yesterday by firing six birdies in his opening round, offset by just two blips at the eighth and ninth holes.

That dropped him back to level after he had picked up shots at the fifth and sixth, but his response to the back-to-back bogeys was impressive, with birdies at the next

three holes taking him to three-under, before signing off with another at the par five last.

Sweden's Johan Carlsson leads the way on six-under par after a 66, one ahead of Francesco Molinari, Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Scott Jamieson, with Lowry one of nine players on four-under

Another of those is South Africa's Branden Grace, who insisted his conscience was clear after receiving a controversial drop in his round.

After making an eagle on the 12th to move into a tie for the lead at Wentworth, Grace's approach to the 13th plugged in the bank of a bunker, leaving him with an awkward lie on the upslope.

However, after taking his stance in the sand, the 29-year-old called in a rules official and said that his feet were touching the rubber sheeting at the base of the bunker, thereby entitling him to a free drop.

The decision was met with criticism on social media,

with former Masters

champion Danny Willett writing on Twitter: “EuropeanTour please explain that drop?! Burying feet enough in to get to the base of the bunker???”

Former Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley labelled the ruling “ridiculous” before adding: “If you twist your feet enough you're bound to eventually reach the bunker lining.

“That means any time a player wants relief from a poor lie he can simply twist his feet until he reaches the bunker lining. That can't be right.”

Grace, who bogeyed the 13th and dropped another shot on the 16th in an opening 68, said he had simply applied the rules after experiencing a similar situation.

“I actually knew the ruling from a couple of years ago in China at the HSBC Champions,” he said.

“My ball was found outside the bunker, but the only stance I had was inside the bunker and the same thing happened.

“When I took the stance, there was only one or two inches of sand and my foot kept sliding on the material, the rubber, underneath the sand.

“A rule is a rule, and I took advantage of the rule there, and it helped knowing the rule in some respects. Fortunately for me, I got away with a good drop but I still made bogey.

Meanwhile, Graeme McDowell made another good start to a PGA Tour event yesterday with a bogey free four-under par 66 at the Dean and Deluca Invitational in Texas.

The Portrush man, with six top 30 finishes in his last eight events, picked up shots at the fourth, seventh, 11th and 18th holes to sit one shot behind early clubhouse leader Derek Fathauer.

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