Molinari maintains fine form

Italy’s Francesco Molinari overcame a slow start to hold a one shot lead at the halfway stage of the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth Club.

Molinari saw his two-shot overnight lead wiped out with two bogeys in the first three holes, but played the remaining 15 in five under to add a 69 to his opening 65 and reach ten under par.

A late surge from Korea’s An Byeong-hun, who compiled a joint best-of-the-day 64, saw the two-time Ryder Cup star’s lead reduced to one, with Emiliano Grillo and Thongchai Jaidee tied for third on eight under par.

Three-time European Tour winner Molinari, who has recorded three consecutive top-ten finishes in this event and was joint second behind James Morrison in last week’s Open de España, said: “I’m really happy.

“The start is really tricky the first three holes. I think I played them okay. My chipping wasn’t good enough on the first and on the third to save par. I managed to steady the ship and made a few birdies coming in at the end, so a good day.

“Obviously I’m delighted to have gone a little bit further under par from yesterday and just need to keep doing the same. I know how hard I’ve been working the last few months, so it’s nice to see that it’s paying off on the course.”

The 23 year old An graduated from the Challenge Tour last season and has already registered three top-ten finishes in an impressive rookie campaign.

And he produced eight unanswered birdies over the West Course to sit just one off the halfway pace.

“I hit 17 greens, and the missed green, it was a good shot but just missed the green,” said An.

“I hit it really solid today –I didn’t have any putts over 30 feet to be honest and every putt was a birdie chance.”

Grillo holed a bunker shot on the 12th and then hit his approach from 255 yards to a matter of inches on the 18th to set up another eagle.

“I am enjoying the moment and playing well and being in contention is what I need. If I keep knocking someone is going to open the door,” said Grillo, who is looking to win his first European Tour event after finishing 11th, third and sixth in his last three tournaments.

“I’ve been looking for a win since I turned pro and it’s going to come soon. There’s a lot going on when you are in contention and you have to be prepared.

“Playing well definitely pushes the confidence up and it’s nice to be on the leaderboard every week. This is a big week, the Flagship Event of The European Tour and it would be great to win.”

Like An, Thailand’s Jaidee was flawless in compiling a round of 66 with six birdies, with last week’s winner a shot further back in fifth on seven under and veterans Robert Karlsson and Miguel Angel Jiménez tied for sixth.

However, defending champion Rory McIlroy missed the cut, reverting to his “usual” performance at Wentworth by missing the cut for the third time in four years.

McIlroy was seeking his third win in four weeks, having followed his victory in the WGC-Cadillac Match Play with a third consecutive top-ten finish in the Players Championship and a seven-shot triumph at Quail Hollow on Sunday.

However, the World Number One could only manage a second round of 78 to finish five over par.

“I’m not going to read too much into it,” McIlroy said.

“It was inevitable at some point that the run was going to come to a bit of an end. I’m sort of back to my usual at Wentworth. It wasn’t great before I won last year and it hasn’t been great after.

“Any time you’re defending a title you want to come back and give it a valiant effort. This week wasn’t really that.

“I’m not angry. A little disappointed I’m not going to be here for the weekend.

“If anything good comes out of this, it’s just that I get a couple of days over the weekend to refresh mentally.”