BMW PGA Championship: Rory McIlroy takes charge at Wentworth

Rory McIlroy
Rory McIlroy

Defending champion Alex Noren hailed "the best round I've ever seen" after playing partner Rory McIlroy took command of the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth.

Leaders

-12 Rory McIlroy

- 9 Sam Horsfield, Sebastian Gros

-8 Tommy Fleetwood

- 7 Robert Rock, Alexander Noren, Kiradech Aphibarnrat, Francesco Molinari

Day two report

Defending champion Alex Noren hailed "the best round I've ever seen" after playing partner Rory McIlroy took command of the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth.

Noren carded a course record of 62 in the final round last year, but was nevertheless happy to heap praise on McIlroy's flawless 65, which gave the four-time major winner a halfway total of 12 under par and a three-shot lead over England's Sam Horsfield and France's Sebastien Gros.

"That's the best round I've ever seen. I'm about to quit golf I think," said Noren, whose own 68 left him five shots off the pace on seven under alongside Robert Rock and Kiradech Aphibarnrat.

"It's hard to draw off it when it's that good. It's tough because it's almost like you're trying to play better than you need to when you see that. I really wanted to get the honour and be first on the tee and then you don't have to hit after that 330-yard driver or 300-yard three-wood."

McIlroy's more measured assessment reflected the fact that he missed good chances on the first three holes and failed to birdie the 17th and 18th, both par fives, for the second day in succession.

"There's still a couple of loose shots in there, like the one on 18 (which plugged in a greenside bunker), but overall it was a great round of golf," McIlroy said after matching his career-low score at Wentworth, although a previous 65 in 2009 was before the course changes the following year.

"I had everything sort of firing today and it was nice to take advantage of the opportunities I gave myself. All you ask for is giving yourself a chance every week.

"I could go out and shoot two 65s at the weekend and get beaten so you can't expect to win. All I expect to do is go out and control what I can control. Every tournament is a big tournament but the more I can play well and the more confidence I can build going into those majors the better."

McIlroy - Sky Bet's 4/7 favourite at halfway - got the ball rolling with a birdie on the par-five fourth, before picking up further shots on the seventh and ninth to reach the turn in 32.

The 29-year-old then rattled off four birdies in succession on the back nine and was five shots clear before Horsfield fired four birdies in five holes from the 12th.

The Orlando-based 21-year-old, who is a protege of Ian Poulter, gained his European Tour card by winning Qualifying School by eight shots last year and has already recorded two top-four finishes in his rookie season.

"I think any time you're playing on the weekend and you're up there near Rory, I think you're going to be doing pretty well," Horsfield said. "Whoever I end up playing with I'm going to go out there and give it my all.

"I've lived in America since I was five but I do feel English and there's no doubt who I'd play for in the Ryder Cup. It's pretty cool to be able to play in an event like this."

European number one Tommy Fleetwood birdied the last three holes to shoot 66 and lie four shots off the lead, while playing partner Poulter did the same in his 67 to finish three under.

Day one report

Former champion Rory McIlroy found the spark he was looking for with his best ever opening round in the BMW PGA Championship, despite a final hole which was far from picture perfect.

McIlroy was distracted by a trigger-happy photographer on his second shot to the par-five 18th at Wentworth and needed a lucky bounce off a tree to avoid going out of bounds.

If looks could kill the photographer would have been in jeopardy - "I wouldn't say dead," McIlroy joked afterwards - and after almost holing the resulting pitch for an eagle, McIlroy's mood was hardly improved by missing from three feet for a birdie.

However, a five-under-par 67 was still one shot better than he managed in the first round on his way to victory in 2014, with Denmark's Lucas Bjerregaard setting the clubhouse target on seven under, a shot ahead of the South African duo of Dean Burmester and Darren Fichardt.

"It's a tough enough golf shot without something going off at the top of your swing, but it happens," McIlroy said of the incident on the 18th, for which he received a swift apology from the photographer. "It's fine. I'm sure he didn't mean to do it.

"I'm a little frustrated I couldn't get a birdie or two out of the last couple of holes, but overall it's a really good start. I played a lot better than I have done the last couple of weeks.

"I saw some good shots out there, better drives, and putted well for the most part. If I can just do more of the same over the next three days, I should have a decent chance."

McIlroy was joined on five under par by Ryder Cup team-mate Matt Fitzpatrick and fellow Englishman Richard Bland, whose effort was witnessed by his brother Heath as he recovers from a life-threatening illness which saw him placed in an induced coma for a month at the end of last year.

Bland, who is seeking a first European Tour title at the 433rd attempt, said: "It's going to take some more time but he's on the road to recovery. We were a close family anyway but this has brought us even closer.

"He thought he had the flu and was just feeling a bit rough, but it turned out he had a virus which stopped his heart and they had to put him in an induced coma. It knocked us for six, especially as it was over Christmas.

"I'm certainly not going to make excuses for my golf [he has missed five straight cuts] but it was not easy, especially at the start of the year, but it certainly puts things into perspective. Even though I've had a tough time on the course, it's really not that bad."

Fitzpatrick admitted he is enjoying the comforts of home after spending much of the season on the PGA Tour, but knows the pressure is now on to secure a second consecutive Ryder Cup appearance.

Points earned from now on are multiplied by 1.5 and the 23-year-old from Sheffield, who is just outside the automatic qualifying places, said: "That makes it a little bit exciting. I think it will be interesting come the end of all the points to see what the team is.

"If you throw in one or two unlikely winners it could skew things a little bit. It probably puts pressure on the boys that are kind of expected to make the team because they've got to play well."

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