Rory McIlroy took advantage of an outrageous piece of good fortune in the second round of the BMW PGA Championship to move to within one shot of the lead of the DP World Tour’s flagship event.
With his wildly hooked drive on the par-five 17th seemingly heading out of bounds, his ball rattled around pinball-fashion in trees before cannoning back on to the fairway. From there the world No 3 managed to make a birdie.
“It was a seven, net four,” McIlroy said. The good luck allowed him to keep a bogey off his card, with the 65 hauling him into 11-under and onto the heels of the pacesetters Viktor Hovland (68) and Soren Kjeldsen (64).
McIlroy actually had the opportunity to make an eagle on the par-five 18th, but by then he had raised the mood sufficiently in the 25,000-strong sell-out chants to ensure it was his name they were chanting in the grandstands.
“Rory, Rory, Rory,” rang out as the sombre atmosphere gave way to the overwhelming positivity at McIlroy’s performance.
The Northern Irishman made his tribute to Queen Elizabeth II, whose passing was respected by Friday’s play being cancelled and the £7 million tournament being reduced to 54 holes. “She was such a steadying figure,” he said. “I saw a stat yesterday that she ascended to the throne the year before Ben Hogan won his Open Championship.
“So it just shows you how long she's been around and things that she's seen. That level of duty, and to do it with the dignity and dedication and the grace that she has, she was an absolutely incredible woman.
“I was very fortunate, I got to meet her a few years ago, and she couldn't have been nicer. A wonderful moment for me. I have a picture of that in my house alongside my MBE which I'm very proud of.”
McIlroy was adamant the Tour were correct to continue the tournament. “I thought it was the right decision,” he said. “I don't think we are disrespecting anyone by playing. Hopefully we are showing our respect and celebrating what an incredible life the Queen had.”
A two-minute silence was staged at 9.50am and the players and caddies donned black ribbons. Kjeldsen was the star of the morning, bouncing back from his bogey on the first to reel off seven birdies and an eagle.
'In an exciting position'
However, it was inevitably McIlroy - in his first start since winning the £16m FedEx Cup last month - who stole the show, eagling the fourth when hitting his approach from 205 yards to 10 feet and then picking up three birdies before the last two holes. McIlroy was suitably humble about his remarkable ricochet.
“I told Harry [Diamond, caddie] ‘it’s gone, throw me another ball’ but it hit a few branches - I saw the big marks,” he said. “Billy [Horschel] said to me ‘Who did you pay to throw the ball out there? Where's your wallet?’ I told him, ‘It's too heavy - I put it in the locker.’ It was a three-shot swing.
"Between that and my putting, it’s put me in an exciting position. I haven't played any LIV events [contested over 54 holes] but am looking forward to how it feels. There's so many guys up around the top of the leaderboard, it will be a sprint to the finish.”
As well as Thomas Detry (65) and Rafael Cabrera Bello (65) alongside McIlroy, Francesco Molinari (65) and Shane Lowry (68), the 2018 and 2019 Open Champions are one-behind. The best-placed of the 15 LIV-contracted players is Talor Gooch (64) on 10-under.
Sergio Garcia, another of the rebels, could be hit with disciplinary action for withdrawing without supplying a reason. Instead of playing in the second round, the Spaniard was pictured attending a college gridiron match in Texas.
The affair will inevitably only add further fuel to the controversy surrounding the renegades on the Saudi-funding circuit teeing it up here.
On Wednesday, McIlroy slammed the LIV brigade for “taking places off players who really need them” and Keith Pelley, the Tour’s chief executive, accused some of the rebels of “disrespect” and made a thinly-veiled attack against Garcia for saying “the European Tour is becoming the game’s fifth Tour”.
Regardless of the details behind Garcia flying home to America - the all-time leading scorer of the Ryder Cup shot a first-round 76 and would have needed a 64 to make the cut - the fact he left without an explanation has not gone down well at Wentworth HQ. It is against the regulations, but it is understood he could still avoid censure by providing a belated account.