Golf-Aphibarnrat sets pace at Wentworth as Ryder Cup hopefuls begin quest

LONDON (Reuters) – Thailand’s Kiradech Aphibarnrat produced a scorching eight-under-par opening round at the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth on Thursday as behind him those vying for Ryder Cup spots suffered mixed fortunes.

Aphibarnrat’s round of 64 gave him a one-stroke lead over Australian Adam Scott with England’s Justin Rose, hoping to impress Ryder Cup captain Padraig Harrington, carding a 67.

Five European players — Jon Rahm, Rory McIlroy, Tommy Fleetwood, Viktor Hovland and Paul Casey — have qualified on merit for the Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits from Sept. 24-26.

Three more can seal their places depending on their performance this week at Wentworth while Harrington will also choose three wildcards.

Rose would need a victory this week to guarantee himself an automatic spot on the European team, although a strong showing would boost his chances of a captain’s pick.

Austrian Bernd Wiesberger, one of those on the cusp of forcing his way in to the side on merit, looked to be struggling as he went three-over through the opening six holes.

But he recovered superbly to post a one-under 71 — rolling in a long eagle putt on the 18th. Wiesberger needs a top-50 place to secure his Ryder Cup debut.

England’s Matt Fitzpatrick, another player seeking to nail down his Ryder Cup place along with compatriots Tyrrell Hatton, the defending champion, and Lee Westwood, scored a level-par 72.

Italy’s Francesco Molinari, who went 5-0 when Europe beat the United States in Paris in 2018, impressed with a three-under 69, although he has stated that he will not be part of the team this year because of back problems.

Westwood and Shane Lowry, who currently occupy the final two automatic qualification spots, were later starters.

Ryder Cup stalwarts Ian Poulter and Sergio Garcia are favourites to be captain’s picks in view of their inspirational qualities. Garcia is Europe’s record points scorer with 25.5 from his nine appearances, while Poulter has been one of Europe’s most reliable points scorers.

Poulter opened with a 72.

(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Toby Davis)