VIRGINIA WATER, England — Francesco Molinari mastered the toughest conditions of the week at Wentworth to shoot a 6-under 66 and share the lead with Rory McIlroy after three rounds of the BMW PGA Championship on Saturday. Scoring was more difficult because of gusty winds and fast, firm greens at the West Course but Molinari managed a bogey-free round featuring six birdies starting from the eighth hole.
It was the lowest score of the day as the Italian took five shots off McIlroy, who started the round with a three-stroke lead and needed birdies at the par fives at Nos. 17 and 18 for a 1-under 71 to keep at least a share of first place on 13-under 203.
It could be a two-way fight for the title at the European Tour’s flagship event, with their nearest challengers — defending champion Alex Noren (70), Sam Horsfield (72), Branden Grace (69) and Ross Fisher (68) — four shots back on 9 under.
Lee Westwood is in a four-man tie for seventh place, one stroke further back, after a 69.
After playing what he described as one of his best rounds of 2018 in shooting 65 on Friday, McIlroy struggled for accuracy off the tee in the crosswinds. At No. 6, he pushed an iron off tee into the trees and drilled his attempted hack out through some bushes and off the knuckles of a nearby spectator.
He wound up with a double-bogey 6 that saw him drop out of first place.
About that time, Molinari was embarking on his burst of six birdies in 10 holes and never trailed McIlroy after that. However, the four-time major winner managed to birdie the closing par fives for the first time this week to rescue his round. McIlroy was lucky at No. 18, with his drive hitting spectators on the left of fairway and bouncing back into the light rough. Molinari has top-10 finishes in five of the last six years at Wentworth, and was runner-up to Noren last year. McIlroy won here in 2014.