Tuesday 22 October 2019

McIlroy not giving up as Rahm and Willett lead way

Rory McIlroy celebrates a birdie during yesterday’s round at Wentworth. Photo: Action Images via Reuters
Rory McIlroy celebrates a birdie during yesterday’s round at Wentworth. Photo: Action Images via Reuters

Ewan Murray

Jon Rahm has derived such joy from prime events on the European Tour that it seems astonishing to think there was once doubt over how prominent the Spaniard could be when back in his home continent.

After forging a college career in the United States - and winning his first professional tournament there, in 2017 - Rahm has proved the epitome golfing versatility.

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The 24-year-old is now just 18 holes from adding the BMW PGA Championship to a European Tour CV which already includes two Irish Opens, a Spanish Open and the season-ending DP World Tour Championship. It's as if he never went away.

Rahm holds a share of the 54-hole Wentworth lead with Danny Willett as the pair traded 68s. The reinvigorated former Masters champion birdied the last to deny Rahm an overnight advantage.

That duo's 15-under par aggregate is three better than Shubhankar Sharma, Justin Rose and South Africa's Christiaan Bezuidenhout. Rafa Cabrera Bello and Richie Ramsay lurk with intent at minus 10, one clear of Patrick Reed. This is, to the tournament's credit, a terrific leaderboard.

"We're going to have to play really, really good golf to win this event," said Rahm, quite appropriately, and he'll to avoid the same nervous finish he produced yesterday. Fortunate not to go out of bounds off the tee on 17 and 18, the Spaniard three-putted for a bogey on the 17th before making a 20-footer on the last for an unlikely par.

Rory McIlroy has previous for rampaging towards glory here. The 30-year-old was seven from the lead when entering the final day of the BMW PGA Championship in 2014. A closing round of 66 was sufficient to take the trophy five years ago; rough weather as forecast for today makes it tricky to predict what kind of number will prevail. McIlroy will begin day four at minus six, with the depth of talent between he and the leaders meaning this is probably a bridge too far in respect of victory.

McIlroy was three-under within four holes of his third round and six-under after 12. A dropped shot at the 16th stunted the McIlroy charge slightly but a birdie at the penultimate hole repaired that damage. McIlroy's birdie attempt at the last slid by but this still represented an excellent day's work after opening rounds of 76 and 69.

"I wish I had holed that putt at the last for 64," McIlroy said. "I wanted to go out today and shoot a good score, to try to get myself back into the tournament somewhat. I think if I went out tomorrow and shot a similar score, I don't think I'd be too far away from the winning number.

"It's amazing, I only took two weeks off but it felt like I had not played golf in years on Thursday. It was strange. But it has been nice to sort of figure it out a little bit, play a bit better yesterday. It just took me a little bit to get going. It's hard to say that you're rusty after having two weeks off when you've played so much this year, but that's seriously how it felt, and each day I just got a little bit better."

A three-under 69 left Open champion Shane Lowry in a tie for 27th on four-under with the Offaly man delighted that his 11.05 tee-time this morning will allow him time to watch Ireland's Rugby World Cup opener against Scotland. Pádraig Harrington is not so lucky. He tees it up at 8.0am after a three-over 75 left him on four-over.

Moment of the day belonged to Ross Fisher, who saw his four-iron approach to the 18th run gloriously into the hole for an albatross two. Fisher had been 225 yards from the pin. That Fisher, a former Wentworth member, had his wife and children in the gallery added to the endearing scene, as did his reward of a €150,000 BMW i8 Roadster.

"That was the best shot I've ever hit, by a long way," Fisher said. "There will be a few celebrations tonight, but I'll have to come back and try and do it again tomorrow." Such is life, alas.


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