Wednesday 21 February 2018

Shane Lowry stays in the hunt but Francesco Molinari still the man to catch at Wentworth

Ireland's Shane Lowry
Ireland's Shane Lowry

Francesco Molinari produced the perfect response to some spectacular scoring from his rivals to remain the man to beat in the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth.

Molinari held a one-shot lead at the halfway stage of the European Tour's flagship event, but saw that wiped out before he started his third round thanks to some amazing feats from the chasing pack.

England's Tommy Fleetwood had already birdied the first when he holed out with a seven iron from 198 yards on the fourth for just the third albatross in the history of the tournament.

And moments later, Miguel Angel Jimenez recorded his third hole-in-one of the season - he won 288 bottles of beer for an ace in last week's Spanish Open - by holing out with a nine iron from 150 yards on the second.

That was the 10th ace of Jimenez's career on the European Tour, setting a new record by edging one ahead of Colin Montgomerie, and was followed by a birdie on the next for good measure.

But it was Thailand's Thongchai Jaidee and Korea's Byeong Hun An who were the first to catch Molinari at the top of the leaderboard, Jaidee picking up shots on the first and second and An also making a birdie on the first.

Molinari edged clear again with a birdie on the third before Jaidee claimed top spot by holing from 12 feet for an eagle on the fourth, only for Molinari to almost hole his approach to the seventh and record another birdie on the eighth.

That took the former Ryder Cup player to 13 under par and into a two-shot lead when Jaidee bogeyed the ninth, with Fleetwood and An a shot further back.

Fleetwood had holed from 20 feet for eagle on the 12th, meaning he had played the first two par fives in just five shots, but bogeyed the 14th after a poor chip from just off the green.

Fleetwood two-putted the 17th for birdie and could only par the 18th, meaning he had completed the "perfect set" of albatross, eagle, birdie, par on the four par-fives.

The resulting 65 saw him set the clubhouse target on 11 under, boosting his chances of a second European Tour title following his win in the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles in 2013.

"This ranks as high as it can get," Fleetwood said. "It's the biggest event on the European Tour and the European players' fifth major. So many great players have won it and it's one you want on your mantelpiece at the end of your career."

Asked about his albatross, Fleetwood added: "That was about as good as you can play a hole of golf. Perfect drive, 198 yards to the pin. I was thinking one (club) less but went with a normal seven iron and it pitched six or eight feet right of the pin and span in.

"Wobbly (his caddie Phil Morbey) was pretty excited because it was his choice of club, not mine."

It was a good day for Offaly's Shane Lowry who carded a second consecutive 67 to keep in contention.

He is alone in eighth position on -8 after a round which included three birdies and an eagle on the par 5 12th.

Peter Lawrie (level), Graeme McDowell (+1), Darren Clarke (+4) and Damien McGrane (+5) are out of contention.

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