Perhaps the remainder of this BMW PGA Championship field took umbrage at the suggestion of a diminished tournament after the premature exit of Rory McIlroy. It certainly appeared that way during the third round, when the blue-chip event of the European Tour season burst firmly into life.
For Miguel Ángel Jiménez there was a 10th European Tour hole in one, which broke the record held by Colin Montgomerie. Jiménez has supplied two aces in two weeks. At 10 under par, four from the 54-hole lead, he has a greater prize within sight.
Jiménez recorded his first European Tour hole-in-one 25 years ago. This year alone has already brought three, equalling a seasonal record. In celebration of the latest Jiménez effort, with a nine-iron at the 2nd on Wentworth’s West Course, the 51-year-old provided a dance of delight.
“It’s very prolific this year, over the last few months,” said the Spaniard. “You get the right distance, the right club, hit a good shot and that’s the ingredients you need to make a hole in one. You know, it’s so many years out there, 10 holes in one. It’s nice to have the record. I have also holed a couple of times from the middle of the fairway. That means my irons, they are like darts.”
Francesco Molinari has been joined by An Byeong-hun with 18 holes to play. “At this time of the year I usually get into form for some reason, particularly here at Wentworth,” Molinari said. “I just love the place. I love the atmosphere and I love the golf course especially. Hopefully I play the same kind of golf tomorrow.”
Still, Molinari was outscored by one by his young Korean playing partner on Saturday; which provides sufficient evidence that An’s chances should not be discounted. An has made only four bogeys in three rounds, which makes a mockery of a world ranking which stood at 132 before a Wentworth ball was struck. “I am more excited than nervous,” An said.
Tommy Fleetwood provided a similar, box-office moment to Jiménez when holing his seven iron from 198 yards for an albatross at the 4th. Fleetwood later signed for a 65, which gives him a live opportunity of what would be a second – but by far the more significant - Tour success. He is three adrift of Molinari and on Saturday alone Fleetwood played the course’s four par-fives in six under.
Fleetwood attributes a recent upturn in fortunes to tuition from the renowned coach Pete Cowen. “The work we’ve been doing has been really starting to pay off,” said the 24-year-old. “I’m driving it better, which is generally my strength.
“I think just my whole game is getting better and, when it’s like that, it’s good to show it, bring it off the practice ground and put it on to the course. The last month or so I’ve been playing really good golf.
“The one problem I always have is I tend to hit a big draw if I’m playing badly. And the more we got through this year, I had two or three months where the club was getting behind me and I was struggling. I was either hitting a big block or I was hitting a hook.
“When I got to Doral in March, one of the toughest courses I’ve ever played, that was a nightmare; the course just completely ate me alive. The stuff we’ve done with Pete has been excellent and it’s made a massive difference.”
That improvement was evident at the WGC-Cadillac Match Play Championship, where Fleetwood defeated Branden Grace and Jamie Donaldson before losing to his compatriot, Danny Willett. “Any time you go to one of the biggest events in the world with the best players and you put in a good performance, it’s always going to give you confidence,” Fleetwood added.
“That was great for me, going over there and playing well. I’m just hoping to carry that form on and it’s good to be competing here now.”
Shane Lowry’s bogey-free 67 leaves him at eight under. Peter Uihlein is two shots worse off on aggregate after his 66. Donaldson has matched Uihlein’s total after his finest round of the week, 67. Luke Donald’s hopes of securing the world top-60 berth required to earn a place in next month’s US Open suffered a blow as he followed up back-to-back rounds of 70 with a 77.
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