BMW PGA Championship 2014: Rory McIlroy’s mood improves but Lee Westwood finds fault with flags

 

wentworth

The love bulletin from Wentworth was slightly more upbeat on Friday. With any luck the state of Rory McIlroy’s mind will be a matter only for him as the BMW PGA Championship gathers pace on Saturday.

The love bulletin from Wentworth was slightly more upbeat today. With any luck the state of Rory McIlroy’s mind will be a matter only for him as the BMW PGA Championship gathers pace today.

For the record McIlroy has good moments and bad following his split with Caroline Wozniacki. As far as the golf is concerned, he is putting a substantial challenge together, threatening to top his best finish here of fifth five years ago. Three birdies over the closing four holes in filthy weather saw him home in 71 for a five-under-par aggregate.

A six-shot deficit at the start of play had shrunk to five at the close, overnight leader Thomas Bjorn hanging on to a share of the lead with Shane Lowry at 10 under par with a birdie at the last. Over in the tented village behind the 18th green Justin Rose, who is eight back after a second-round 73, was taking questions from sodden punters and joking about how much he had enjoyed the English summer since his return to Britain last week, “all three days of it”. He did, however, miss bacon sandwiches, curry houses and a proper cuppa. 

As ever the crowds at the European Tour’s showpiece were a magnificent testimony to the appeal of the game in Britain. If only the money followed in their footsteps. The big bucks rain down from distant vaults where the love of the game is in its infancy and a matter principally for elites.

Though participation might be falling in golf’s heartlands there remains enough love for the sport to pack the galleries at professional tournaments of this magnitude. And, encouragingly, there was a smattering of nippers craning necks for a live peek at faces ordinarily appropriated on television, or to borrow from the advertising community – online, on tablet and on smartphone.

 

There was a hint of controversy about day two rooted in pin positions that many thought perverse. Lee Westwood, who shot a credible 71 to enter the weekend on two under par, led the assault, claiming that the location of the holes denied the early starters the kind of advantage that had been conferred on Thursday’s early birds.

“They put the flags out easy and there was no wind yesterday morning. It was a fantastic round but everything was in everybody’s favour yesterday morning for low scoring. I don’t understand the reason for the drastic difference in flag positions from day one to day two,” he said.

“I was always under the impression that you set the golf course up the same over the first two days and the  conditions are the only thing that can affect it, but the set-up of the golf course was massively different from day one to day two. It looked like it played three shots harder in the afternoon yesterday and, with the pin positions today, I would say it is playing three or four shots harder.”

McIlroy agreed. He dropped two shots in his opening three holes and double-bogeyed the seventh, which amounted to a four-shot swing at a hole he had eagled in the first round. The back nine proved far more accommodating. He eagled 12 for the second day in succession before the rash of birdies over the closing holes.

The obligatory mood question was dealt with early. “I think yesterday was a little tougher than today. I was apprehensive going out yesterday. I didn’t know what was going to happen, and at least going out today, I knew what to expect. I think it was good that I had the quick turnaround from last night to this morning just to get straight back out on to the golf course.

“Once you get inside the ropes, you’re concentrating on your golf, and it’s almost like it’s a nice four or five hours of release in some way just to get everything out of your head apart from doing the job at hand. It’s the hours in the day when you’re away from it that are probably a little more difficult.”

And your golf, Rory? “I’m taking advantage of the holes that I should be taking advantage of, which is very pleasing. The par fives, some of the short par fours; that’s been something that was missing in my game last year, and this year. I’ve been able to play the par fives better. My wedge play has been better. I’ve highlighted a few things that I needed to improve, and it shows in the scores.”

The climate gods mocked this English garden late on with a blaze of sunshine, but too late to affect the rhythm of the day. Luke Donald was a welcome exception to the Friday grind, gaining five strokes to par in as many holes around the turn.

He closed on six under par for a share of fourth place, his round of 67 ending with a 25-footer for birdie. His last victory on the European Tour was at this event two years ago. He was in the form of his life back then, the highest-ranked golfer in the world. He came here in 19th spot but the trajectory is upwards and he has that look in his eye again.

“Warming up it was  hammering down and the wind was blowing. I bogeyed the first and thought it was going to be a battle to make the cut. But then I started to hole a few putts and when that starts happening the game starts to feel a bit easier,” Donald said.

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