AFTER digging deep to stay at the head of affairs – albeit now sharing the lead with Shane Lowry – Thomas Bjorn spoke for the rest of the golfing world last night when he expressed delight at seeing Rory McIlroy in the chasing pack at the halfway stage in the BMW PGA Championship.
“He’s had a tough couple of days as that’s a tough situation,” said the Dane of McIlroy having announced on the eve of the European Tour’s flagship event at Wentworth that he had ended his engagement with Bjorn’s compatriot, Caroline Wozniacki.
“I feel for both of them as they’ve both got big things coming up,” he added after carding a level-par 72, which, given that part of it was played in miserable wet conditions, proved almost as satisfying as him setting a new course record at the Surrey venue on Thursday with an effort that required ten shots fewer.
On ten-under, Bjorn now has Lowry for company after the former Irish Open champion birdied the last two holes for a 70, the duo holding a four-shot advantage over two-times winner Luke Donald (67) and Spaniard Rafael Cabrera-Bello (73).
McIlroy, who eagled the 12th for the second day running in his 71, is a further shot adrift in a group that also includes Swedish duo Henrik Stenson and Jonas Blixt after they, too, carded one-under efforts on their second circuit.
“It says a lot about his character that he can still focus on the job and go out and perform the way he has,” continued Bjorn of seeing McIlroy’s name on the leaderboard in a week when many expected him to be a crumbling and emotional wreck.
“I don’t know what is going on in his mind, but he is determined to show the world that he is still a good player in the circumstances and the golfing world is a better place when Rory McIlroy is playing well.
“He’s a great kid. Tough things happen on the road of life and we all have to deal with them. He’s such a great talent. If anyone can do it, he can.”
Having limped to the turn in 38 – he thinned one from a greenside bunker at the seventh to run up a double-bogey 6 at a hole that he’d eagled first time around – McIlroy’s state of mind looked fragile. For the second day in a row, however, he moved up a gear on the back nine, coming home in 33.
“I think I’ve exceeded them so far,” he replied to being asked about what his expectations had been boarding the first tee on Thursday. “I honestly didn’t know what was going to happen and didn’t know how I was going to feel. So to be in here for the weekend and to be in with a chance is good.”
Don’t let that fool you into thinking he’s callous and cold, though. His decision to split from Wozniacki is still raw. It’s only when he’s inside the ropes, in fact, that he’s able to forget about one of the toughest decisions he will make in his life.
“It’s like a release in some ways just to get everything out of your head and that’s nice,” he said of playing. “It’s the hours in the day when you’re away from it that are probably the more difficult.”
Conditions were certainly difficult for McIlroy and his fellow competitors yesterday. Few escaped the heavy rain, either catching it at the start or finish of their rounds. Bjorn was in the former and, as an added problem, also found himself waiting at almost every shot. Padraig Harrington requiring a lengthy ruling in the match in front contributed to that, as did Retief Goosen, who was playing in the same group as Bjorn and Stephen Gallacher, retiring through due to an injury after six holes.
“It was a testing day,” admitted Bjorn.” Sometimes we stood seven or eight minutes over a shot before you could hit it and that was certainly tough. But I worked hard to get myself around the golf course with a decent score and, taking the conditions into consideration, I’m pretty pleased with the day’s work.”
Like Paul Lawrie, Lowry is renowned for playing good golf with his waterproofs on, though the sun was out when he finished 4-4 to join Bjorn at the head of affairs. “I was mentally there today,” said the 26-year-old. “It’s about forgetting your mistakes and trying to get on with things.”
Donald, the winner in 2011 and 2012, made his score – the best of the day – with a run of five 3s from the eighth. He started out nine off the lead but now has Bjorn and Lowry in his sights. “I’ve got to play solidly tomorrow and claw a few more back,” said the Chicago-based Englishman before heading off to enjoy a curry.
Still in with a chance of getting their teeth into big cheques tomorrow are five Scots. Chris Doak leads the way on three-under, Richie Ramsay and Marc Warren are both on two-under, Paul Lawrie on one-under while Gallacher made it with a shot to spare on one-over. Late in the day, Fifer Peter Whiteford agonisingly bogeyed the last to miss out.