Thursday at Wentworth: Pure greens! Sunny, hot day in England!
By Stephanie Wei under European Tour

I’ve just gotta start out by saying that any time you pull up to a venue and the parking is right next door to the media center, you’re automatically in a good mood and feel great about the tournament. I learned this two years ago — I was a bit shocked actually that media parking was almost too good to be true at the European Tour’s flagship event at Wentworth. It was great to return two years later and find that nothing had changed. I know this is random stupid #golfmediaproblems, but it definitely doesn’t hurt that this Tour takes really good care of the media when it comes to the small details. Shuttle buses are automatic buzzkills.

But enough about the amazing media parking at Wentworth! Well, it was a shame to once again come down with a stomach virus and miss Tuesday and Wednesday — as you know, those days are when I’m able to capture WUP gold and once the tourney starts, it’s a bit, okay, whatever. I’m not kidding when I say that the only person with a worse immune system than me is Jason Day. Unfortunately, that’s been a struggle for me the past two-plus years.

Let’s talk about the beautiful weather in sunny England! It was straight-up warm but perfect today! Temperatures reached 80 degrees! Sunny! No humidity! That’s what I call perfect golf weather. And that’s downright HOT for the British. It’s lovely and supposed to be even warmer tomorrow, but rain is in the forecast for the weekend. Fingers crossed that it’ll change.

It was a pretty blah first round at Wentworth, but it was the first year since the massive renovations where the European Tour basically blew up the greens that were not well received after a facelift in 2010. Ernie Els’ design company played a big role in that one and Ernie was upset by the harsh criticisms from the players. Some British journos were reminiscing on a showdown in the parking lot between Els and Thomas Bjorn, which would’ve been an interesting match-up. <<popcorn>>

Els’ design group worked with the European Tour’s team in the latest renovation. The greens are equipped with sub-air systems now, but from what I saw and heard, they were quite firm — as new greens always are — but flawless.

“No spike marks, nothing,” said Thomas Pieters, who teed off in the afternoon wave and posted a four-under 68 for a share of fifth place. “It was wonderful to putt on.”

Pieters bogeyed the last hole because — wait for it — his hands were so sweaty that the club slipped out of his hands! That’s not usually a problem you hear from a golfer playing in England in May!

“I don’t like to make excuses but it kind of slipped in my hands and came out low and never got there,” said Pieters. “Happens with these hot days and got to make sure you’ve got a towel and all that stuff.”

Pieters had a busy spring and caught some crap via Golf Twitter for skipping The Players Championship, but he needed a break. His last stroke-play event was the Masters, but obviously he didn’t have much dust to shake off. He doesn’t plan on making another start between Wentworth and the U.S. Open at Erin Hills — which I can understand as he has a busy summer ahead of him.

Some odd and ends:

–Ernie gave himself a two-shot penalty. Unfortunately, I wasn’t present when he finished and spoke to reporters, but he explained the situation — though I’m still a bit confused as to what happened:

Q. You had a penalty on the 12th hole. Can you tell us what happened?
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, my second shot on the par 5, I pulled it a bit left and hit it into the bank of the bunker. I thought it was plugged, so I asked my guys if I could check it and they said yeah. I put it back and I hit my chip shot, and I just felt uncomfortable by the way the ball came out.

The ball came out way too good. So I felt I didn’t quite probably put it exactly where I should have. JP and the guys explained to me that under the rules, you try and put it back the way you think it should be, but I still felt uncomfortable with it, so we took a two-shot penalty.

Q. You chipped in and ended up with a par, should have been a 3.
ERNIE ELS: One of those things. The game of golf, it is what it is. I know deep down, the ball wasn’t quite where it should be, and you know, I wouldn’t be able to live with myself. So be it; it’s a 5 and we move on.

–Our boy Kiradech Aphibarnrat teed off in the morning and posted a stellar five-under 67 for a share of second place. He likes the changes.

“The golf course look fantastic,” he said. “A lot of bunkers been taken off. Make the fairway look a little bit wide. But the green is really firm and fast. Still really tough course. But it’s in great condition out there.”

–Lee Westwood opened with a two-under 70 shared his thoughts on the redesign/renovations:

Don’t really know what to make of the scoring with the redesign. The greens, there’s really not any excuse or issues on these greens. They are really good surfaces. But I guess nobody is used to the breaks that’s on them, when you re-lay greens.

I expected the scoring to be a bit lower, but they are firm, as well. So it’s tough to get it near the pin I guess. If you start missing the greens in the wrong spots, it becomes tricky and if you start to hit it in the rough, I guess it’s going to be a difficult golf course. I think 70 is a pretty good start.

Q. Tomorrow, numbers should drop again with weather like this, shouldn’t it, people getting used to it?
LEE WESTWOOD: Don’t know. The golf course might firm out. It was pretty firm today. If you hit in the rough, even the semi-rough, it’s hard to stop the ball on the greens — you don’t usually have to stop the ball on the green from the fairway. So I haven’t really got any answers for you.

Q. Do you feel as though you’re playing a new golf course?
LEE WESTWOOD: A little bit, yeah. Certainly a new golf course compared to the one we’ve played for the last seven or eight years, and a better one than that. Fairer.

Q. What’s the biggest sort of change? Is it the depth of the bunkers are sort of leveled out?
LEE WESTWOOD: Yeah, the greens are a much better surface. There’s no guessing on them. And they have taken a few bunkers out in places, which was sensible. It had got too bunkered.

This is Westwood’s 24th consecutive start at Wentworth. Wow.

–Swede Johan Carlsson is the solo first-round leader with a six-under 66. He had six missed cuts in his first eight starts before two top-30 finishes in his last two events. He was happy with his play. Duh.

“It was fun most of all I would say,” said Carlsson, who teed off in the morning wave. “You know, it’s a big event this year, and you kind of feel it a little bit, the atmosphere. Everything is big around this tournament. And obviously you want to do good.

“But I decided before I went out that just going to stick to one thing and that’s going to really try to break it down and make it small. So I had one goal in mind today and that was to commit to every shot, as good as I possibly can, and I think I did. That’s probably why I got that score, as well, probably.”

–The European Tour had some…ummm… technical difficulties with their new website and app that was launched this week… The social media team responded: