Rory McIlroy gave himself an outside chance of collecting a second BMW PGA Championship title after firing a superb 65 in delightful conditions early on the third day at Wentworth.
McIlroy scrambled a par at the last late on Friday evening to make the cut with nothing to spare on one over, and he went out in the second group of the third round alongside Ryder Cup captain Padraig Harrington and Tommy Fleetwood as huge crowds flocked to the West Course to follow the marquee threeball.
The world No 2 last night admitted he needed at least a 65 to keep his title hopes alive, and he reached his target with an entertaining round which featured an eagle at the 12th, six birdies and just one dropped shot after a rare miscue off the tee at the 16th.
McIlroy escaped with a good par at the first before the first signs of his improved accuracy with his irons surfaced at the short second, where he knocked an arrow-straight tee shot over the pin and converted from six feet for birdie.
A sublime seven-iron to within three feet at the third set up another birdie, which he followed with his third in a row at the long fourth before just missing out on getting to three under with his 20-footer for a three at the sixth.
McIlroy was unable to threaten the pins over the remainder of the outward half and settled for a steady run of cast-iron pars as he turned in 32, still nine strokes behind leaders Danny Willett and Jon Rahm who were over two hours from teeing off.
A precise tee shot to 12 feet at the 10th gave McIlroy a great chance to break his run of pars, but the putt did not catch enough of the lip to drop and spun back towards him, but he got back on the birdie trail on the next with a well-controlled approach to tap-in range.
Two mighty blows found the heart of the green at the long 12th, and McIlroy prompted the loudest cheer of the morning when he rolled in a confident 15-foot putt for an eagle which lifted him to five under for the championship, and he was suddenly knocking on the door of the top 10.
McIlroy’s charge up the leaderboard stalled when he read too much break into a 12-foot birdie putt on the 13th, and he made a mockery of the difficulty of the 15th as he backed-up another perfect drive with a crisp mid-iron to six feet, and the putt was never in doubt.
But his good work at 15 was undone by a pull off the tee at the next, where his ball flirted with the out-of-bounds and his only option was to crouch down and stab back into play and, after a wedge to eight feet, the par putt drifted too far left.
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There was some real venom in his drive at the 17th as he hunted for his first birdie of the week at either of the two closing holes, and he finally made a good four after tugging a fairway-wood into the left rough and playing a delicate pitch to six feet.
McIlroy’s drive at the last trickled into the rough on the left, and an ambitious second landed close to the hospitality tent 20 yards to the left of the green, but he pitched safely on and two-putted for a closing par which kept him at six under for the tournament, giving him a much-needed lie-in for Sunday morning.
But he remained realistic about his chances of pulling off another spectacular come-from-behind victory at Wentworth, admitting that overturning a seven-shot deficit in the final round in 2014 is something that will be tough to emulate.
“Even if I am seven or eight shots back and I get off to a decent start, you never know,” he said. “But at the same time, I’m a realist and I know I won from seven back a few years ago, and I feel like that’s something that happens maybe once in your career. Maybe I can make it twice, but at least I’m moving in the right direction, which is the main thing.