Rory McIlroy retained the lead after the third round at the BMW PGA Championship, but that’s only a tiny part of the story with more than a few misadventures along the way on a crazy day at Wentworth.
The former World No 1 is now tied with Italy’s Francesco Molinari on 13-under after a 71 on a day when he lost a three-shot lead with six holes, had a double bogey, two bogeys and hit three spectators with errant shots, but still finished with birdies on the two closing par fives.
That allowed him to draw back level with Molinari, who shot a brilliant 66 swithout a bogey even with a visit to the water feature at the 18th hole, getting up and down after his drop for his par.
Molinari has five top tens in his last six visits to Wentworth but has yet to win. McIlroy, with one win in 2014, looked like he was prepared to hand the title to anyone who wanted it on a windy and tricky day on the West Course.
He hit a woman on the wrist with a recovery shot on the sixth that eventually led to the double bogey six that saw his lead evaporate, and then hit a marshal with his approach to the 17th green, but still got up and down from short left for a key birdie.
Down the last he hit a wild drive left striking another female spectator on the head, but after checking she was okay he recovered his poise and made a six foot birdie putt to retake a share of the lead.
“It was a struggle out there today,” he said. “When you’re working on a few things in your swing and the wind is up and you’re stuck between trying to play different shots, but also trying to make good swings at it, you just hit some loose tee balls.
“But I’m proud of myself. I stayed patient. Actually I’m feeling a bit better about myself after today than I was even walking off the course yesterday.
“I felt like I left a few out there yesterday and I felt like I basically did as good as I could have done today.”
McIlroy wasn’t shaken by the three times he hit people in the gallery, but appreciated that he had been lucky.
“I got very fortunate today, I could have been out of bounds in two of those,” he said. “I just hope those people are okay. I went over to say sorry to them. Hopefully the medics did a good job and they are okay to come out and cheer us on tomorrow.
“I don’t know if it’s just the fact that the crowds are quite close to the fairways here; that’s what I’ll put it down to.”
Molinari has dropped just one shot since the first hole on Thursday and his excellent up and down from the water at the 18th preserved that run
“It was very solid tee-to-green and I’m really pleased having no bogeys today, a challenging day with the wind gusting,” said the Italian, who lives in London.
“I don’t know what it is, I just love playing here. Clearly the course suits my eyes and I just enjoy the atmosphere.
“It is a challenging course but I think if you hit good shots, you can make a few birdies here and there. I love it, and hopefully it will be another good day tomorrow.”
Four players are sharing third place four shots back, with Ross Fisher (68) and Branden Grace (69) making up the most ground yesterday. Defending champion Alex Noren (70) and rookie Sam Horsfield (72) are the other pair on nine-under.
Blairgowrie’s Bradley Neil found the trickier conditions much more in line with what he’d been told about Wentworth as he shot a two-over 74 to lie on two-under in a share for 39th place.
“Judging the wind and the course playing a lot faster is what I was told by other players about this place,” he said. “It was a lot tougher today and hopefully it’ll stay windy for the later guys.”
Bradley needed a couple of good saves on 16 and 17 and missed a 25 foot putt for birdie on the 18th, but was happy to have stayed in thetre and grinded out a score.
“I dropped three shots around the turn and could have let it slip, but I stayed in there,” he said. “I’m told that the weather’s going to get worse, but if there’s wind, if there’s rain, even if there’s snow, I’m from Scotland!”