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Matt Wallace sets PGA Championship pace with opening round of 65 as Rory McIlroy faces battle to make cut

James Corrigan
Wallace carded a seven-under 65 on the West Course on day one - Getty Images Europe

Sometimes it is easier to change your caddie than your character and, sometimes, it makes sense as well. The latter seems to have proved the case for Matt Wallace, who followed up last week’s third place with a stunning opening round here at the BMW PGA Championship.

Five birdies, an eagle and no bogeys added up to a seven-under 65 on the West Course and afforded the Englishman a one-shot lead over Sweden’s Henrik Stenson and Spain’s Jon Rahm.

However, Rory McIlroy could only manage a 76 that left him 11 shots off the pace, and he declined to discuss his morning’s chaos with the media.

Perhaps the world No 2 was speechless after standing at three-under after seven holes and dropping seven shots in the 11 holes thereafter, including a double-bogey on the 17th and a bogey on the 18th.

Unsurprisingly, McIlroy’s mood was in direct contrast with that of Wallace, who appears to have returned to his ultra-confident self after his decidedly mediocre July and August. 

His troubles began after all the negative publicity he received after rowing with bagman Dave McNeilly at the BMW International Open in June. 

Rory McIlroy could only manage a 76 that left him 11 shots off the pace Credit: ACTION IMAGES

It was not the first time the 29-year-old had lost his temper on camera with the veteran, but he vowed to work on his issues and calm down.

Wallace managed to accomplish that feat, looking the picture of serenity when accompanying Tiger Woods in the first two rounds of the Open at Royal Portrush. 

The trouble was that Mr Nice was not as adept at posting low rounds as the previous incarnation and, following a tie for 51st and a 27th at the next week’s World Golf Championship in Memphis, the four-time European Tour winner decided he wanted the old Matt back. And in golf, that inevitably leaves one person’s neck on the block – the caddie’s.

“It was the hardest decision I’ve had to make in my career, Dave’s done so much for me, I love him, he’s got me to where I am today,” Wallace said referring to the Northern Irishman who has, among others, previously worked with Sir Nick Faldo, Padraig Harrington and Nick Price.

“I didn’t want to keep being like that with Dave and Dave like that with me. There were bits going back and forth and I wanted to change something up. I did at the back end of the Open time – I changed my emotions inside and that affected the way I played. I don’t think I want to change too much of me – I want to keep the fire.”

It will be interesting to see how the world No 26 and Jonathan Smart progress. Smart was Danny Willett’s caddie when he won the Masters in 2016, but less than a year later quit the bag mid-tournament because of their turbulent on-course relationship.

The focus on Friday will fall on McIlroy’s attempt to make the cut, but on four-over, down in a tie for 114th place in this 132-man field, it will require something heroic. The sponsors will be understandably relieved that as well as the undeniable quality of the top three, there is the world No 4, Justin Rose, on five-under and the likes of Willett, Paul Casey and Ernie Els on four-under.