Lee Westwood produced golf reminiscent of the late Seve Ballesteros to remain in contention to win the BMW PGA Championship at the 24th attempt.
Westwood carded a third round of 72 to lie three shots off the lead held by Australia’s Andrew Dodt, but the bare figures did not tell the whole story of a remarkable score.
After 14 holes at a windswept Wentworth, Westwood had hit just one green in regulation and was three over par, but the former world No.1 then parred the difficult 15th and birdied the last three holes.
The 44-year-old, who has twice finished runner-up in the European Tour’s £5.4 million flagship event, needed just 23 putts and had a scrambling percentage of 95, prompting some high praise from caddie Billy Foster.
“He said he had not seen an exhibition of short game and putting like that since he worked for Seve 25 years ago,” Westwood said. “After 14 holes I hadn’t had a birdie putt and I was just grinding, trying to get up and down when I missed the green, which was pretty often.
“It felt odd and nice in a way. I had gone through the confused and slightly angry stage and was just laughing, wondering who this was chipping and putting. I’ve worked hard on my short game and maybe it has finally clicked. I feel like I have all the shots. I’m just enjoying playing golf at the moment and, as one of the oldest guys out here, being able to compete.”
A combination of swirling winds and firm greens made scoring difficult, with the last four groups a combined 17 over par and halfway leaders Thomas Pieters, Scott Jamieson, inset, and Francesco Molinari shooting 78, 76 and 74 respectively.
Dodt defied the conditions with a 68 to finish at the head of affairs on eight under par, a shot ahead of South African Branden Grace.
Westwood and Molinari were two strokes further back, with Open champion Henrik Stenson, Ireland’s Shane Lowry and Japan’s Hideto Tanihara on four under. Tanihara’s 67 was the lowest score of the day and lifted him 32 places.
Dodt credited his good form at the end of last season and current performance to improving his mental approach with sports psychologist Andrea Furst, who worked with Team GB’s gold medal-winning hockey team before last year’s Rio Olympics.
“I reconnected with Andrea in September last year,” the two-time European Tour winner said. “She’s an Aussie based in London. I saw her when I was 20, 21 and then like any golfer I was trying to get better with someone else, but I came back to her. I’ve concentrated on my breathing and calmness. I got very technical so pushed that to one side and concentrated on playing the game. I didn’t even know my score today because I was so into every shot.”
A victory for Grace would be his eighth on the European Tour since 2012, but would also rekindle the debate over his controversial free drop in the first round, when his approach to the 13th plugged in the bank of a bunker, leaving him with an awkward lie on the upslope. However, after taking his stance in the sand, the 29-year-old called in a rules official and said his feet were touching the rubber sheeting at the base of the bunker, thereby entitling him to a free drop.
The decision prompted Danny Willett, whose former caddie Jonathan Smart is now working for Grace, to use Twitter to ask the Tour for an explanation, while former Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley labelled the ruling “ridiculous’’.
“To be quite honest, I don’t think I did anything wrong,” Grace reiterated after a 70 which featured four birdies in five holes from the 10th. “The rules official is there for a reason and it was a valid question and he gave me the drop.
“I actually heard that [Padraig] Harrington was in the same scenario yesterday and he got relief as well. I think it is something that brought the attention to a lot of guys out there that maybe didn’t know about that rule, but now they know.”