Rory McIlroy will enter the final round of the BMW PGA Championship in a share of the lead, after bravely battling his way back to a one under 71 to join Francesco Molinari at the top in the opening Rolex Series event of the European Tour’s 2018 Race to Dubai.
The prestigious event at Wentworth Club is set for a classic finale as eight-time European Tour winner Branden Grace, defending champion Alex Noren, local favourite Ross Fisher and Ryder Cup legend Lee Westwood all wait in the wings hoping to usurp the two leaders and claim the famous trophy.
The 2014 BMW PGA Champion McIlroy did not quite hit the heights of Friday, when he carded the joint-best round of the week thus far with a 65, but he did bounce back from three dropped shots in the opening six holes to card four birdies in a bogey-free final 12 holes.
The four-time Major winner joined Molinari on 13 under par after the Italian carded the round of the day in breezy conditions with a flawless 66, which earned him a share of the third round lead at an event in which he finished runner-up just 12 months ago.
The man who stormed to a dramatic victory on that occasion was Noren, who carded five birdies, a bogey and a double-bogey in his final seven holes on the way to a third round 70, which moved him to within four strokes of the lead. The Swede overturned a seven-shot deficit in the final round last year.
Fisher, meanwhile, finished birdie-eagle on the West Course to rapturous cheers and a four under 68 earned him a share of third position alongside Noren, Englishman Sam Horsfield and South African Grace, a Rolex Series winner already at last year’s Nedbank Golf Challenge hosted by Gary Player.
Former World Number One Westwood was a shot further back on eight under par after a three under 69 and he was joined in sixth place by Finn Mikko Korhonen, Kiradech Aphibarnrat of Thailand, Frenchman Sébastien Gros and Englishman Sam Horsfield.
Shane Lowry is tied for 16th on six-under after making five birdies in a 70, leaving him two shots outside the top 10, with Graeme McDowell a shot further back after making five bogeys and four birdies in a 73
“It was a struggle out there today. 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.
“I'm looking forward to tomorrow. I'll need to play better than today. All I wanted to do was give myself a chance going into Sunday and I've been able to do that. Hopefully that's my bad round out of the way and I can play better tomorrow.
“I think I need to go do a little work on the range, whether that's tonight or tomorrow, to try to recalibrate and get some good swing thoughts back in my head.
“If I get off to a good start, I think that's the big thing. Being three-over through six is no fun, so if I get off to a good start tomorrow, that will be a positive way to start the fourth round and hopefully challenge for the title.”
“It was great, especially today. Obviously, the conditions were very different, it was a tough challenge today with the breeze. It was gusting and it wasn't easy so it was nice to keep a clean scorecard - I hit the ball great. I even missed a few short putts on the first nine or ten holes, but I'm in a great position, so I’m really pleased with today.
“I just love playing here. Clearly, it suits my eye and I just enjoy the atmosphere. The crowds are always great. 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.”
“I heard the crowd reaction at the last, so I knew it was pretty close. I walked up, saw my pitch mark, and I wasn't sure if it missed right or left but I just happened to have a nice number in there, 214 to the front.
“It's glorious sunshine and it's warm, but, in and amongst those trees and around 11 and 13, 15, and even on 18 there, you're looking at the clouds and you're looking at the trees and they are doing different things.
There are eagles and birdies to be made but you can easily run up a bogey and a double. I'll take what I've done today and conclude at the end of today, see where it puts me going into tomorrow and try and do the same again.”
“Today the ball-striking was better and I gave myself some chances on the back nine and that's what you want, especially in conditions like this.
“Last year I actually played really well. I think I just made one stupid call on the par five 12th, trying to hit it out of the burn. That was pretty much it. I played some proper, solid golf, even in the final round.
“Tomorrow, I don't know what the weather has got in store for us, but I just need to play the same game and try to hit the same shots and just try to copy what I did the last couple of days.”
“It was very eventful. I was playing well today, hitting most fairways and most greens up until 14. I was very happy and I felt very calm out there. It was so different from yesterday. Yesterday I holed all the putts, and today I didn't hole that many.
“I hit some wayward shots on 15, 16 and 17, I got quite lucky getting a shot from the right rough just behind the trees there. But that's how golf is. I thought it was a good round. It was tricky out there, very windy so I’m just happy to have a chance.
“There are very good players at the top. If I get my tee shots better throughout the whole round, that should give me some more opportunities. You never know, but that's golf. Anything can happen, but I need to really play well.”
“It was playing really tough out there. The wind around here got really swirly and I think Rory might have struggled with the wind, too. We sort of talked about it, and it was tough out there. Obviously 17 and 18 are great opportunities, and I chipped in on 17 and then hit a great wedge shot on 18. It was nice to come back and I’m looking forward to tomorrow.
“I don't know what the weather is like but it's playing tough out there and anything can happen. You've just got to get on a good roll. Like I said before, I feel really confident in my putter. I just have to hit a few more greens and give myself some more opportunities.”
BMW PGA Championship, Wentworth Club (West Course, Par 72)
203 F Molinari (Ita) 70 67 66, Rory McIlroy (Nir) 67 65 71,
207 R Fisher (Eng) 71 68 68, B Grace (RSA) 69 69 69, S Horsfield (Eng) 67 68 72, A Noren (Swe) 69 68 70,
208 L Westwood (Eng) 70 69 69, S Gros (Fra) 69 66 73, M Korhonen (Fin) 68 70 70, K Aphibarnrat (Tha) 68 69 71,
209 D Fichardt (RSA) 66 72 71, L Jensen (Den) 68 70 71, R Rock (Eng) 69 68 72, L Bjerregaard (Den) 65 73 71, M Kinhult (Swe) 74 67 68,
210 Shane Lowry (Irl) 69 71 70, M Wallace (Eng) 72 69 69, E Van Rooyen (RSA) 70 69 71, R Cabrera Bello (Esp) 72 68 70, T Jaidee (Tha) 69 72 69,
211 Graeme McDowell (Nir) 71 67 73, M Fitzpatrick (Eng) 67 71 73, P Casey (Eng) 72 70 69, F Zanotti (Par) 69 69 73, C Wood (Eng) 72 68 71, R Ramsay (Sco) 69 71 71,
212 A Björk (Swe) 71 70 71, D Burmester (RSA) 66 73 73, B An (Kor) 74 68 70,
213 A Levy (Fra) 70 68 75, J Wang (Kor) 74 69 70, I Poulter (Eng) 74 67 72, T Fleetwood (Eng) 70 66 77, H Li (Chn) 73 66 74, A Sullivan (Eng) 71 68 74, M Warren (Sco) 71 72 70, M Pavon (Fra) 72 67 74, M Southgate (Eng) 69 72 72, B Hebert (Fra) 70 69 74,
214 A Saddier (Fra) 70 70 74, R Fox (Nzl) 70 73 71, H Porteous (RSA) 74 69 71, M Kieffer (Ger) 69 71 74, E Pepperell (Eng) 72 68 74, R Cho (Kor) 74 68 72, M Manassero (Ita) 75 66 73, R Bland (Eng) 67 75 72, J Dantorp (Swe) 74 69 71, B Neil (Sco) 71 69 74,
215 H Tanihara (Jpn) 69 72 74, G Green (Mas) 72 70 73, T Immelman (RSA) 71 68 76, A Pavan (Ita) 73 70 72, J Suri (USA) 74 67 74, D Lipsky (USA) 70 72 73,
216 S Gallacher (Sco) 71 69 76, J Kruyswijk (RSA) 73 70 73, T Detry (Bel) 72 71 73,
217 J Heath (Eng) 72 67 78, T Olesen (Den) 69 70 78, M Lorenzo-Vera (Fra) 72 70 75, S Fernandez (Esp) 74 69 74, A Dodt (Aus) 70 73 74,
218 A Wu (Chn) 72 71 75, B Stone (RSA) 73 70 75, P Waring (Eng) 73 68 77,
219 N Bertasio (Ita) 68 70 81,
221 D Brooks (Eng) 70 73 78