VIRGINIA WATER – A truncated tournament could pave the way for a thrilling finish to the BMW PGA Championship, with the top 10 players separated by two shots heading into Sunday's final round.
Rory McIlroy is in there. And so are two golfers from the Saudi-backed breakaway series.
The European tour's flagship event has been shortened to 54 holes after a day's play was canceled following the death of Queen Elizabeth II. Viktor Hovland and Soren Kjeldsen were tied for the lead on 12 under par Saturday at the end of the second round.
McIlroy finished birdie-birdie on the closing par 5s at Wentworth to shoot 7-under 65 — tying his career-low round in the tournament — and was in a three-way share of third place with Thomas Detry (65) and Rafa Cabrera Bello (65), a shot behind the leaders.
Then came five players on 10 under — including Adrian Otaegui (65) and Talor Gooch (64), who both now play in the contentious LIV Golf series. Gooch's presence in the field was criticized ahead of the event by some golfers who have decided to stick with the sport's established tours and shun the Saudi money.
Gooch was even name-checked by defending champion Billy Horschel, who said his fellow American was at Wentworth “for one reason only and that’s to try to get world ranking points because you don’t have it” in LIV tournaments.
Otaegui and Gooch will play together on Sunday.
Hovland shot 68 to follow up his opening 64, while Kjeldsen started with a bogey and finished birdie-birdie for a 64 after opening with a 68.
Hovland hasn't won since the Dubai Desert Classic in January. The last of Kjeldsen's four European tour titles came in 2015.
McIlroy, meanwhile, is coming off winning the Tour Championship — and the FedEx Cup — two weeks ago and is seeking back-to-back titles worldwide for the first time since 2014.
As the current leader of the Race to Dubai, the four-time major champion is also in a good position to win the money lists on both sides of the Atlantic.
“I felt my putting was really good,” McIlroy said after a 5-foot birdie putt at No. 18, which came soon after a big par save at No. 16, “and that’s kept me in the tournament.”
Play started at 6:40 a.m. local time on Saturday, with 30 players needing to finish their first rounds that were stopped late Thursday following the announcement of the death of the queen at the age of 96.
A decision was taken for there to be no play on Friday — meaning the event was cut to 54 holes — as a mark of respect to the monarch of more than 70 years and players, caddies and officials held a two-minute period of silence around the course at 9:50 a.m.
The proclamation of King Charles III was later shown on the television screens in the Championship Village.
Horschel said he and his wife visited Windsor Castle to pay their respects to the queen when the tournament was put on hold on Friday, with Australian player Min Woo Lee — who shot a week-low 62 — doing likewise at Buckingham Palace.
McIlroy paid tribute to the queen’s “dignity, dedication and grace personified."
“She was such a steadying figure for the entire country,” McIlroy said. “I was very fortunate, I got to meet her a few years ago and she could not have been nicer. I have the picture of that in my house alongside my MBE, which I am very proud of as well.
McIlroy said it was the “right decision” for the tournament to continue.
“I don’t think we are disrespecting anyone by playing and celebrating what a life the queen had,” he said.
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