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Golf: Expect Wentworth master to emerge all guns blazing; GOLF: BMW CHAMPIONSHIP.

Byline: By Steve Palmer

ANDREW McLARDY, a South African journeyman who started the BMW Championship as a 250-1 chance, ended yesterday on top of the leaderboard, but there were three world-class Englishmen alongside him who will have much greater hopes of winning the title.

McLardy's five-under-par first round on the toughened-up West Course at Wentworth left him sharing first place with Paul Casey, Luke Donald and Nick Dougherty, while another English star, David Howell, was just one shot off the pace.

Howell, 28-1 at the off, carded a 68 despite still being troubled by a bad back.

"I'm managing the injury now," said Howell. "It didn't bother me on the shots, but now the round is over I'm definitely aware of it."

Another home-grown talent in the chasing pack is Milton Keynes maverick Ian Poulter, who showed no lasting scars from his final-round 85 at the Irish Open.

Poulter, who dropped from three off the lead to 60th place in Ireland on Monday, said: "That's old fish paper now.

"I'm in great form, but I've not managed to finish it off. I've not forgotten how to, though."

Defending champion Angel Cabrera had a hot putter to thank for his opening 68. The Argentinian rammed home birdie putts of 25, 15, 12, nine and eight feet.

The tournament favourite remains Ernie Els, though, after a steady 69 left him stalking the front-runners.

Els, who was in charge of redesigning the course and adding 300 yards to the layout, shortened from 11 to 7.8 on Betfair.

The Big Easy is clearly growing in confidence on the greens and the evens that he outscores playing partners Thomas Bjorn and Miguel Angel Jimenez this afternoon looks worth a serious interest.

The world No. 6 switched back to one of his old Ping putters at the Byron Nelson Championship earlier this month and has been enjoying himself on the greens ever since. He canned a 40-foot putt on the ninth hole yesterday.

Bjorn was clearly feeling the effects yesterday of his duel with Darren Clarke and Casey in Monday's Irish Open finale, and the Dane does not appear to have much left in the tank, while Jimenez's form this year has been nothing like as solid as in previous seasons.

Today Els will finally get a morning off having spent much of this week explaining his course changes to the media, so expect the six-time Wentworth Match Play champion to come out all guns blazing this afternoon.

Ross Fisher, who knows Wentworth like the back of his hand and is one of the rising stars of the European Tour, should outgun Barry Lane and Jean Van de Velde for the second day running.


E Els 6pts Evs general

R Fisher 3pts 6-5 Boyle, Ladbrokes


Colin Montgomerie fans banter with one of the scorers at Wentworth yesterday morning
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:May 26, 2006
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