In front of almost 21,000 golf fans, the Dane played flawlessly from tee to green for a bogey-free round of 65, seven under par, which was made up of seven birdies and 11 pars. His two previous visits to the European Tour’s premier event ended with him missing the halfway cut. Now he is dreaming of winning it.
“I'd obviously love to win it, but there's a long way to go,” he said. “I'm just pleased that some good form from the last few weeks seems to be continuing. Hopefully I can keep doing some of the same stuff the rest of the week.”
One stroke behind are Dean Burmester and Darren Fichardt, both of South Africa, while Rory McIlroy, the highest ranked player in the field and the pre-tournament favourite, is lurking dangerously just two shots off the lead. Alongside the Northern Irishman are three Englishmen, Matthew Fitzpatrick , Richard Bland and Sam Horsfield.
The champion in 2014, McIlroy started relatively slowly but finished strongly. After an outward half of 34, he picked up four birdies and five pars to come home in 33. He was disappointed not to have birdied the last, after being distracted by a photographer while playing his approach shot to the green, but he was happy with his day’s work.
“I played really well,” he said. “It felt pretty good out there. I putted well and thought the greens were the best we’ve seen here for a long time. If you take care of the par fives here, you’ll do well. I’m nicely placed, but there’s a long way to go.”
One of the day’s most exciting moments came at the par-five 18th, where a stunning BMW i8 Roadster is on offer to any player claiming an albatross – which means finding the hole in two shots. It seems an impossible task, but Branden Grace, a Friend of the Brand, almost claimed the prize when he struck a beautiful approach shot to the green and watched as the ball rolled agonisingly past the hole. If the ball had moved a few centimetres to the right, it would have dropped into the middle of the cup. As they say, it is a game of fine margins.