This week’s BMW PGA Championship includes the 12 best European players the continent has to offer.
Most of them played well Thursday, namely Matt Fitzpatrick, Ludvig Åberg, and Tyrell Hatton.
But the entire European Ryder Cup team is looking up at the 232nd-ranked player in the world, Marcus Helligkilde of Denmark.
Helligkilde, who is 26 years old and has never won on the DP World Tour, made 10 birdies, including three straight to finish, to card an 8-under 64.
“I did it by hitting it terribly on the range,” Helligkilde said after his round. “As my coach says, I asked him, what should I do, and he’s like, yeah, you’re probably going to play great. So that was what happened.”
Indeed, Helligkilde played well, as he holds a two-shot lead over Fitzpatrick and Richie Ramsay of Scotland.
“Yeah, it was a good day,” Fitzpatrick said after his 6-under 66. “Felt like I played really well. Drove the ball really well. I just gave myself plenty of chances and putted well. Overall, it was a really solid day.”
The Englishman has played well as of late, as he tied for third at the Omega European Masters in Switzerland.
Funny enough, Åberg raced past him on that Sunday to claim his first DP World Tour victory.
Åberg, 23, just graduated from Texas Tech this past spring after winning the individual NCAA Championship. He may be new to the professional golf ranks, but has the game to contend with anyone in the world.
Hence why European captain Luke Donald selected the young Swede to the Ryder Cup team.
And luckily for him, he got to play alongside Viktor Hovland and Rory McIlroy during the opening round of the BMW PGA Championship, which will prove to be a good warmup for Rome.
“A little bit more people than I’m used to following me around,” Åberg said after his 4-under 68. “It was really fun playing with those two guys. Obviously, the level of golf that they can do is pretty amazing, and for me to watch that is pretty cool.”
“I was kind of walking around and then almost pinched myself in the arm on the fairways but really enjoyed it, and proud of the way I handled it today.”
Hovland, meanwhile, carded a 3-under 69, a solid start to the week for the FedEx Cup champion. McIlroy had a somewhat disappointing even-par 72.
But two other players who shot 3-under 69s are Shane Lowry and Tommy Fleetwood, meaning half of Team Europe is in the top 21 after the opening round.
Lowry and Fleetwood, who played with Austrian Sepp Straka, could feel the presence of the Ryder Cup looming all day Thursday.
“There is a bit of Ryder Cup chat between us, but it’s enjoyable,” Lowry said. “We all played pretty nicely. It’s nice to be in the sun around Wentworth in big crowds. [Fleetwood] being the hometown hero, it’s so nice. It was a nice treat this morning, and I look forward to [Friday].”
With just two weeks before the 44th Ryder Cup, the European team is rounding into form. Team camaraderie will only improve as the week wears on, too.
Most of them are off to a good start in England, which could signal a harbinger of things to come in Italy.