A remarkably sombre and very humble Rory McIlroy took full advantage of a ‘gettable’ host course as he birdied his closing two holes to be just one off the lead with a round to play in the shortened 54-hole flagship BMW PGA Championship.
McIlroy, winner of the event in 2014, is now one round shy of capturing back-to-back titles on both sides of ‘The Pond’, after recently landing a record-setting third FedEx Cup crown.
On the leaderboards around the West Course, the Scandinavian duo of Soren Kjeldsen and Viktor Hovland lead the way at 12-under par, with the 47-year-old Danish-born Kjeldsen bouncing back from a first hole bogey in posting an eight-under 64 and the 24-year Norwegian-born Hovland signing for a 68.
However it was a far bigger worldwide picture playing out at Wentworth, following the shock news late on Thursday of the passing of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
Thirty players were left on the course when the siren sounded to halt play around 6.30pm on day one, and then notice was given that there would be no play on Friday and Wentworth closed to all.
Flags were a half-mast when play resumed early on Saturday, with the players returning and the fans flocking back to Tour HQ but it was very much a heavy heart for all mourning the passing of Queen Elizabeth II.
There was a two-minute silence just prior to 10am as a mark of respect with players, caddies and officials sporting a black ribbon and Rory McIlroy offered his respect to the British monarch, who he had met in attending Buckingham Palace in late 2011 when awarded an MBE.
“I have been thinking about it a lot as she was dignity, dedication and greatness personified,” McIlroy said. “She was a great lady who I had the honour of meeting once before. Yeah, it’s a sad day but also a celebration of her life. She provided a steadiness of this country that no other has, and I’m sure the scenes over the next few weeks are going to be incredible as they should be, as she was an incredible woman.”
And while McIlroy’s comments mirrored the British nation who are paying tribute to the deceased 96-old monarch, Kjeldsen summed-up what the impact of the Queen’s passing has been like for those non-British and other Commonwealth nation players competing this week at Tour HQ.
“With the time I’ve spent here in the UK, we have some idea of what she meant to the British public,” said the Dane. “I was still surprised yesterday like how affected people were. It was quite incredible, really, and heart-warming to see how important a person she’s been and how loved she was. Incredible. It was — obviously in a way it was nice to celebrate her life today.
“It was very special. Obviously being a foreigner, but having lived here, it’s quite overwhelming to know actually what the Queen has meant to the British people, so I was sort of taken back by that. She was obviously incredibly loved and did a great job. It was a special moment.”
And there was Aussie Min Woo Lee, posting a blistering 10-under-par 62 that had it not been a preferred ‘clean-and-place’ rule would have tied the Wentworth course record.
Lee’s second round, 14 shots fewer than his opening day’s effort, included two eagles with the second at the par-4 15th where he sensationally holed a 192-yard second shot, along with seven birdies and a bogey on 17.
The Perth golfer joined other Wentworth players in heading into the heart of London to Buckingham Palace to pay their respects to the late Queen.
“It was just a shock. I mean, it doesn’t happen obviously often, and to the golfing community, as well, we had to stop and a bit of mourning there,” said Lee. “It was a shock. I had finished my round when I got the news and it’s not really what you want to hear. Yeah, we’ve went down to Buckingham Palace with a few of the boys yesterday and paid our respects to her.
“Yeah, we are back and playing golf, and hopefully we can just keep smiles on our faces and play good golf.”
There was a special moment of sorts for McIlroy early and late, firstly he capped his second round landing his second shot at the par-5 fourth hole to around 10-feet and holed the eagle ‘3’ putt.
Then at the penultimate his drive cannoned off the trees down the left side and thankfully kicked-back into the centre of the fairway. From there McIlroy landed his second some 24-yards shy of the green, chipped to three-and-a-half foot and holed the birdie ‘4’ putt. It was the fourth birdie in an, ‘I’m very much here’ display from the FedEx Cup champion heading to the final round.
McIlroy was pin-high right with his second into the last and while just missing the eagle ‘3’ putt, it was a comfortable birdie to hand him a 65 and see him join Belgium’s Thomas Detry and Spaniard Rafa Cabrera-Bello, with each also shooting 65, tied in third place.
“I gave myself a couple of days off from East Lake but my attention quickly turned to not just this event but the rest of the season, and I’m keeping myself quite busy over the next couple of months.,” said McIlroy. “I want to finish the year off on a high. I finished the season in the States off on a real high, and I want to do the same over here.
“I think if I can play well from now to the end of the year, I keep the momentum that I’ve built going into 2023; and I’ve got a great chance tomorrow to win this prestigious event but also to extend the lead, and then we’ll go to Italy and try and do it all over again.
“I’ve always liked this tournament, even though I won the event (when it was played) in May, it was very soft, but once the dates changed to September, I liked it more. It’s a little like THE PLAYERS in the States, I like the date change from May. It’s a little softer and I can play the game that I want to play a little bit more.”
Shane Lowry is one shot further back on 10-under after a second round 68 where he birdied the 2nd and parred all the way to the 12th before landing another blow but he really came alive with two birdies on 17 and 18 which see him in T6 position alongside Francesco Molinari and Matthew Jordan.