WENTWORTH, England Not even the thunder and lightning can stop him.
Luke Donald continued his seemingly inevitable and unstoppable march to become World No. 1 on Thursday. He fired a first round seven-under-par 64 at the BMW PGA Championship, eight shots clear of current No. 1 Lee Westwood, who struggled in the stormy conditions to post a one-over-par 72 before being escorted away for a European Tour drug test.
"I don't know why they're testing me," Westwood said, grinning. "They should test Luke after a 64."
Donald's name has been a permanent fixture on leaderboards in Europe and the United States for the past seven months. He's clearly in the form of his life, so his competitors at the European Tour's premier event had cause for concern when Donald said his opening 64 was one of his best-ever rounds.
"To pretty much have total control of the golf ball doesn't happen very often," Donald said. "But that's how I felt. I guess you feel a little bit invincible."
He got that golden feeling from the very first hole. "I had something like 200 yards into the first into the wind and I hit a 4-iron," Donald said. "The wind wasn't affecting it too much. Just felt very good about it."
On the eve of the championship, Donald agreed with the notion that he is the best player in the world. After his imperious opening round, he admitted that the almost faultless way he is playing is giving him some insight into how Tiger Woods used to feel when the former World No. 1 was at the peak of his powers.
"I'm a long way behind when it comes to winning 80-plus tournaments and all of those majors, but certainly being in contention week-in, week-out, you start to expect it a little bit more, which I'm sure Tiger did in his prime, as well," Donald said.
Back in 1999, Colin Montgomerie was World No. 2 and shot seven-under-par (in the second round) in this championship on his way to victory. And just for a while here Thursday, Montgomerie was partying like it was 1999, the year he was the Prince of Europe, winning the second of back-to-back PGA Championship titles at Wentworth on the way to claiming his seventh European Tour money list in a row.
Montgomerie started the first round with four birdies in five holes to be the early on-course leader, on the way to an outward nine of just 30 strokes.
And then crash, bang, wallop. The clouds rolled in, the wind gusted, the rains came, and Monty's party balloon popped. Montgomerie slumped to bogeys at 10, 12, 15, 16 and 17 for a back nine of 39 and a two-under-par 69, a reminder that this is 2011 not 1999 and one of Europe's greatest-ever players is now ranked 462nd in the world and was sacked by his caddie on Monday.
"You are going to make mistakes out there but seven birdies was very encouraging," said an unusually chipper Montgomerie, who didn't even bawl out the fan whose mobile phone rang twice as Monty three-putted 16.
Montgomerie found a short-term fix for his caddie problem by borrowing Thomas Bjorn's caddie for the week. (Bjorn is not playing because his father passed away.) Like many on the receiving end of a breakup, Montgomerie wished the best for his ex, who is now looping for Francesco Molinari.
"I usually did the sacking in my life," Montgomerie said. "Now it's the other way around. It's sad but true. I hope they do well."
Montgomerie has had no calls from prospective caddies so he offered up a mock advert of what they might expect from him: "Done a few thousand miles, needs a service, tax has run out," Monty said, laughing.
Not surprisingly, Montgomerie didn't see his 69 coming. "It's been a poor last three years. Awful," he said. Even if he wins at Wentworth he still won't qualify for next month's U.S. Open. "I wouldn't deserve to be," Montgomerie said. "I'm not looking forward to Walton Heath (for U.S. qualifying next Monday) but I'll be there."
Someone with no such career hiccups is Donald, and Montgomerie sees similarities between how Donald is playing now and how Montgomerie played at his peak.
"I did feel that I just had to go out and play then, as he's doing now," Montgomerie said. "He's a better player than I ever was. There's no reason why if he attains No. 1 and wins here that doesn't give him the confidence to go forward. Whatever happens, he's going with huge confidence to the U.S. Open. I can see a European winner of that again."
Donald's emergence this year as a world force has surprised many who believe the modern game is best suited to bomb and gouge rather than plot, chip and putt. But Montgomerie said he always thought Donald could be this good.
"When we discussed picks for the (2010) Ryder Cup, he was first choice," Montgomerie said. "And I don't think he missed a shot out there. Somebody said you don't play that well on PlayStation."