VIRGINIA WATER, England (Reuters) - A last-gasp eagle gave Scott Hend the outright lead in the BMW PGA Championship on Saturday, the Australian taking advantage as Danny Willett’s challenge unravelled in spectacular style.
The back nine at Wentworth is unlikely to go down as U.S. Masters winner Willett’s favourite piece of land after he suffered on the inward half for the second successive day.
The 28-year-old Englishman spoiled a tournament-record 29 on the outward half on Friday by plunging to a 39 on the homeward trek and fared two strokes worse on that stretch of holes in the third round, taking 41 shots to finish with a four-over 76.
Willett, however, is still in title contention on six-under 210, three behind Hend who had a tap-in eagle putt at the 18th to return a 73.
”Hit some bad golf shots out there,“ Willett told reporters at the European Tour’s flagship event. ”We had everything under control and then a couple of loose shots, a couple of bad decisions, a couple of missed putts and very quickly it slipped away.
“Back nine needs a lot more of a draw off the tee and I obviously struggle hitting the draw. The front nine sets up quite nice, trying to hit a fade there most of the time.”
Tyrrell Hatton compiled the best round of the day, a 66 moving him within one stroke of the lead. Fellow Englishman Lee Westwood (68) shared third place on 209 with South Korean Yang Yong-eun (75).
Like Willett, Hend toiled on the back nine, dropping shots at the 13th, 14th and 15th before making amends with his second three at the 18th in consecutive days.
“Fortunately, I had a nice lie in the rough, hit an eight-iron, hoped that it landed in the right spot and lucky enough it bounced close to the hole,” said the 43-year-old Australian who had begun the round in a tie for the lead with Willett and Yang.
“It’s going to be nice tomorrow because it’s pretty congested. This course is starting to firm up and if the sun stays out it’s going to be quite tricky,” added the winner of the tour’s Thailand Classic in March.
Westwood, who is making his 23rd successive appearance in the tournament but has never triumphed at the Wentworth event, said he was carrying an ankle injury throughout his bogey-free round.
“I strained a ligament on my left foot while running on Tuesday,” said the former world number one.
”Forty-three years of age, I‘m going to have to give up running. I‘m taking painkillers and inflammatories and it’s strapped up.
“I didn’t really hole a putt over four feet so to shoot a 68 shows the quality of my tee-to-green play.”
Westwood has been in the doldrums for a while but his tie for second place behind Willett at the Masters has given him a new lease of life.
“It did a lot for my confidence,” he said. “To play well at Augusta with the world’s best players...it really gave me a bit of confirmation that I’ve still got the game to compete.”
Editing by Ed Osmond