Francesco Molinari motors on at BMW PGA

While others were claiming aces and albatrosses, Francesco Molinari kept his cool and the lead, albeit shared, at Wentworth. Picture: PA
While others were claiming aces and albatrosses, Francesco Molinari kept his cool and the lead, albeit shared, at Wentworth. Picture: PA
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IT MAY have lost its star attraction following Rory McIlroy’s early exit, but a crowd of close to 25,000, nudging the total attendance so far this week towards 90,000, still got bang for their buck in the third round of the BMW PGA Championship.

There was a hole-in-one from the remarkable Miguel Angel Jimenez – his second in just over a week, third of the season and tenth of his career, claiming that particular European Tour record for himself after sharing it for a short time with Colin Montgomerie.

‘That was as good as you can play a hole of golf’

“My tenth is coming very soon,” the 51-year-old had predicted earlier in the week at Wentworth and, sure enough, he was repeating a catchy celebration from the Spanish Open a week past Friday as a 9-iron disappeared into the hole at the 154-yard second.

There was also a spectacular shot from Englishman Tommy Fleetwood, who claimed the first albatross of his career by holing a 7-iron from 194 yards at the fourth. “That was as good as you can play a hole of golf,” said a smiling Fleetwood after signing for a day’s best seven-under-par 65 that saw him play the four par-5s in a combined six-under, which also included an eagle at the 12th.

Francesco Molinari heard the huge roars that greeted both those dazzling blows, but the Italian was unfazed as he stayed on course for a wire-to-wire win in the European Tour’s flagship event. The 32-year-old signed for a 68 to stay at the head of affairs on 14-under, though he has Byeong Hun An for company on that mark after the Korean birdied the last two holes for a 67.

Two back after a 68, Thailand’s Thongchai Jaidee is their closest challenger, followed by Fleetwood and Jimenez on 11-under and 10-under respectively.

“It is not easy leading from the start and you could hear the guys coming at you with eagles, albatrosses and holes-in-one,” said Molinari, who is bidding to claim a fourth European Tour title. An, who underlined his talent when winning the US Amateur Championship in 2009, is chasing his first victory on the main circuit, having just stepped up from the Challenge Tour at the start of this season.

Fleetwood, who beat Stephen Gallacher and Ricardo Gonzalez in a play-off at Gleneagles to record his breakthrough European Tour win in the Johnnie Walker Championship in 2013, is in contention to back that up as a result of turning to a new coach, Pete Cowen, after being in despair when he closed with an 80 to finish third last in the WGC-Cadillac Championship in March.

“Doral was a nightmare for me as the course ate me alive,” admitted the 24-year-old from Southport, who also claimed the Scottish Open Stroke-Play Championship at Murcar Links in 2009. “I played a practice round with Henrik Stenson and Graeme McDowell and after that I knew in my own head that I could not compete there and had to do something about it.”

Reaching the quarter-finals of the WGC-Cadillac Match Play Championship in San Francisco last month was an instant indication that things were about to improve under Cowen, one of the most experienced coaches in the game. “I’ve now got less shape on my shots and that’s good because a big problem in the past when I was playing bad was a big draw,” he revealed. “My whole game is getting better and in the last month or so I’ve been playing great golf.”

Marc Warren, one of three Scots still standing, was pleased with a strong finish in his 71. It increased his chances of avoiding a trip to Walton Heath tomorrow for a 36-hole US Open qualifier. Warren, ranked 57th in the world, will secure a spot in the season’s second major at Chambers Bay next month if he can stay inside the top 60 after the dust settles on both this event and the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial.

“It’s in my own hands, so hopefully I can go out tomorrow and shoot something in the 60s,” said the Scot, who has two of the three players directly below him – Frenchman Alexander Levy and England’s Luke Donald – to worry about here and the other one, American Cameron Tringale, still in the mix on the other side of the Atlantic.

Warren, who has played in the US Open just once before, “scrambled well” to get to three-under – one better than Scott Jamieson (72) and three ahead of Chris Doak (73) – though he hit the flag with an approach to a couple of feet at the 16th before holing from 12 feet at the next for another birdie. “It would be nice if I could hit a few more greens in regulation tomorrow,” he added.