Donald hot on Hend's tail at European PGA Championship

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Wentworth (United Kingdom) (AFP)

Two-time champion Luke Donald put himself in the hunt for a hat-trick as he got off to a flyer in the European PGA Championship at Wentworth on Thursday.

The Englishman had three birdies in an outward nine of 32, three-under par, and was four-under the card with four to play, two shots behind Australia's Scott Hend, who was out in 31.

Hend accelerated after the turn with birdies at the 10th and the 12th but had course specialist Donald breathing down his neck

Hend, who came into the week ranked 85th in the world, won in Thailand in March and a birdie at the short 10th gave him a two-stroke lead over the pack.

Joining Donald on four-under were South Africa's Jaco van Zyl, who had played 12 holes, England's Robert Rock, who was on the eighth, and another Australian, Richard Green, who eagled the par-five fourth but was still in the early stages of his round.

Chile's Felipe Aguilar was best of the players in the clubhouse. He shot a three-under par 69, a shot ahead of Scotland's David Drysdale who was also in the opening group.

Donald won this tournament in 2011 and 2012 when he was challenging the best in the world with his first win getting him to the top of the tree for the first time.

He has slumped to 76th and is in danger of missing out on a spot in the European Ryder Cup team for the second time in a row, but a good display at Wentworth could rocket him into the top-50 and contention for the match against the United States and a fifth appearance for his continent at Hazeltine.

Last year's winner Byeong Hun An, of South Korea, had a run of four birdies from the fourth, to head the leaderboard, but he dropped four shots in seven holes from the 10th, to slip back to level par.

Another Korean, Jin Jeong had a nightmare start to his week when he triple-bogeyed the par-four first, followed up with a double-bogey six at the third and further dropped shots left him at nine-over par after 10 holes.

Spain's Miguel Angel Jimenez, winner here in 2008, slumped to an outward nine of 39, but there was better news for Simon Khan, the 2010 champion, who was three-under after 11 holes.

Italy's Edoardo Molinari finished with a 72 and Germany's Maximillian Kieffer was struggling to make the weekend after a 78.

Masters champion Danny Willett, Lee Westwood and Matthew Fitzpatrick were amongst the afternoon starters in the European Tour's flagship event.