Now he’s leading the European Tour’s signature event at Wentworth, although there are no spectators to see it. After almost nine months in the United States — during which he won his first PGA Tour title at the Arnold Palmer Invitational — Hatton is back in Europe and continued his strong form with a 6-under 66 to help set the first-round pace Thursday at a tournament he knows so well.
He was tied for the lead with Justin Harding of South Africa and Adri Arnaus of Spain, neither of whom dropped a shot around the West Course on an overcast day. Hatton, an Englishman ranked No. 15 in the world, birdied four of his first nine holes after starting at No. 10 and climbed to 6 under by chipping in for eagle from just off the green at the par-5 fourth hole.
A wild tee shot at No. 7 led to his only bogey of the round, but he bounced back for a birdie at the next and outplayed playing partner Patrick Reed, the American who leads the Race to Dubai and opened with a 70.
“This week is really special for me,” said Hatton, who grew up not far from Wentworth, which is southwest of London. “I have been walking around this tournament as a 5-year-old so it is always great to now be inside the ropes.
“It is obviously one of the things I dreamed about doing as a kid, and it is very different that we haven’t got the crowds here.” It has been a breakthrough year on the PGA Tour — aside from winning at Bay Hill before the suspension of golf due to the coronavirus, he finished seventh in the FedEx Cup standings — and he attributes his good form to wrist surgery he had at the end of 2019.
“Such a relief being able to practice how I want to,” Hatton said. The leading trio were a stroke clear of four players — British Open champion Shane Lowry, Englishmen Matt Fitzpatrick and Eddie Pepperell, and Gavin Green of Malaysia.
Aaron Rai, the winner of the last week’s Scottish Open, and fellow English player Justin Rose were among a group on 4 under. Ian Poulter appeared to be struggling with a bad back throughout his round but managed to shoot 69 after finishing birdie-birdie-eagle.
Tommy Fleetwood birdied five of his last seven holes to recover from being 4 over after seven holes and shoot 71, along with 2019 champion Danny Willett.
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