VIRGINIA WATER, England (Reuters) - Francesco Molinari recovered from a shaky start to maintain his lead at the BMW PGA Championship on Friday while title holder Rory McIlroy missed the cut for only the third time in 45 events.
McIlroy’s back-nine 42 was riddled with errors and a miserable three-putt effort from 20 feet at the last hole meant he plunged to a six-over 78 and a five-over tally of 149.
Italian Molinari began the second round with a two-stroke cushion over the rest of the field but his chipping was not up to scratch early on and it led to bogeys at the first and third.
However, five birdies over the remaining 15 holes gave him a three-under-par 69 and a 10-under aggregate of 134 on another warm and sunny day at Wentworth.
South Korean An Byeong Hun soared into contention after an eight-birdie 64 pushed him into second place, one behind Molinari. In joint third spot on 136 were Argentine Emiliano Grillo (65) and Thailand’s Thongchai Jaidee (66).
Paul McGinley, Europe’s triumphant 2014 Ryder Cup captain, tipped Molinari to do well at the start of the week and the triple European Tour winner did his best to live up to the Irishman’s expectations.
“I enjoy playing here,” the leader told reporters at the tour’s flagship event. “There’s a bit of good Italian karma with Costantino Rocca winning in 1996 and Matteo Manassero in 2013.
“The start is really tricky here. My chipping wasn’t good enough to save par at the first and third but I managed to steady the ship and made a few birdies coming in.”
Four-times major champion McIlroy is in the middle of an untypically busy schedule of five tournaments in a row that will end with the Irish Open event he hosts at Royal County Down next week.
“I’m a little disappointed I’m not going to be here for the weekend,” said McIlroy who has already won twice this month in the United States. “I’d still rather be here but it’s not all bad getting to go home for the weekend.
“If there was any weekend to miss, coming off the back of three good weeks in the United States, I’m probably in need of a little bit of a rest,” he added after missing the cut by four strokes.
Korean An, making his PGA Championship debut, blitzed his way to a front-nine 30 before making further inroads on par at the 10th, 12th and 17th to tuck in just behind leader Molinari.
“That was definitely one of my best rounds,” he said. “I hit 17 greens (in regulation)...and I didn’t have any putts over 30 feet.
“The players were saying this is one of the best events on the tour and definitely the atmosphere, course set-up and conditions are all spectacular.”
World number six Justin Rose (72) was down the field on 143 but fellow Englishman Luke Donald, who won here in 2011 and 2012, was only six strokes behind Molinari after returning a second successive 70.
Editing by Toby Davis