No amount of money can be a defence against brilliant golf. Robert Karlsson yesterday became the first player to go around the West Course – whether the Harry Colt original or the revamped Ernie Els version – in the mind-bogglingly indecent score of 62 strokes. The circumstances could not have been more unexp-ected. Not only has Wentworth owner Richard Caring's £6.5 million upgrade left players puzzled by the more severe tweaks, such as the river-runs-through-it 18th hole, but Karlsson had to make an overnight dash back from Monte Carlo where he had gone home thinking he had missed the cut.
It will only be tonight that Caring will know whether he has got satisfaction for his considerable investment. Drama is his foremost concern and the BMW PGA Championship is bubbling up nicely. Karlsson, four better than anyone else in the third round, went from joint 63rd to tied for the lead before the overnight leaders had got to the tee.
By the end of the day, the 40-year-old Swede was just two behind Chris Wood, the 22-year-old from Bristol who specialises in featuring at Britain's top events, having finished fifth, as an amateur, and third as a rookie professional in the last two Opens. Wood returned a 67 to reach eight under par, while another of England's young talents, Danny Willett, shares second with Karlsson after a 70.
Luke Donald, the halfway leader, slipped to fourth, a shot further back, after a number of uncharacteristic errors while defending champion Paul Casey and Padraig Harrington could still make a charge today. Els, however, is out of it after a 76, seemingly weighed down by some of his peers' criticisms of the redesign, even though Caring admitted he had overruled his designer erroneously in key areas. Yesterday Caring said: "A guy shoots 62 so it can't be that difficult."
Karlsson's travel adventures began even before the tournament when he decided to drive from Monaco to Surrey to avoid disruptions caused by the volcanic ash. Then on Friday, the Swede took a double bogey at the last, having gone in the water with his third shot, and at three over par thought he had no chance of making the cut.
Furious, he stomped up the hill to the clubhouse, drove to his hotel, left his clubs and car with his caddie to drive to France later, went to Heathrow and got on a flight to Nice. When he switched on his mobile that evening after getting off the plane he received the first messages that he might make the cut after all.
Still mad, he jumped in a taxi anyway and headed for Monte Carlo. He had got to within 500 metres of his home when it was confirmed he would qualify for the last two rounds and ordered the taxi driver to do an about-turn, much to the consternation of his wife. Back at Nice airport, the only flight Karlsson could get was to Paris Orly. He stayed in a hotel there, getting less than three hours' sleep before arising at 4am to go to another airport, Le Bourget, where a private plane had been hired at a cost of $11,000 (£7,600) to take him back to Heathrow. At a quarter to seven, with two hours till his tee time, Karlsson walked back into the clubhouse, plenty of time for breakfast, a proper stretch and a full warm-up on the practice range.
At breakfast, Soren Hansen told Karlsson: "This trip has a 63 written all over it." Or an 83, Karlsson thought. He need not have worried. He birdied three holes in a row from the second, then the sixth and the seventh to be out in 30. More importantly, he saved par at the eighth and the ninth.
"I didn't want to back off and protect what I had," he said. "If I was going to drop a few shots, at least it feels better if you give yourself a chance." At the 12th he hit a nine-iron to 15 feet and made a three. He hit a six-iron to eight feet at the short, uphill 14th. At each of the last three holes he made putts of around 12 feet, for birdie at the 16th, for par at the 17th and, after laying up and successfully wedging on in comparison to 24 hours earlier, at the last for his ninth birdie.
"It's probably the most unexpected," Karlsson said when asked how the round ranked among his best. "Scoring-wise, it was perfect because I was in trouble a number of times." On the relaid greens, rolling perfectly compared to the bumpy surfaces of yesteryear, he needed only 23 putts.
"It crossed my mind to withdraw," Karlsson admitted. "But it doesn't look good. It's a Ryder Cup year – being on the Tournament Committee, you can't pull out of one of our biggest events. And I know the press in England can be quite lethal about these things, so it was not an option." Last night he was glad it was not.