McIlroy, who started the day two strokes behind Denmark’s Lucas Bjerregaard, had a bogey-free round of 65 over the West Course to move to 12 under par and into a three-stroke lead over England’s Sam Horsfield and Sébastien Gros from France, his nearest challengers.. His total of 132 was the second best 36-hole total in the history of the tournament.
“It was one of the best rounds of golf I've played this year,” said the world No.8. “I had everything firing today and it was nice to take advantage of the opportunities I gave myself.”
In what was a masterclass of golf, the 2014 BMW PGA champion took advantage of benign conditions – no wind and rain-softened fairways and greens – to throw down the gauntlet to his nearest challengers. He had three birdies in an outward half of 32 and four in succession from the 12th. His only regret was not picking up a shot at either of the two par-five finishing holes.
In total 21,818 fans came through the gates and most seemed to be following McIlroy and his playing partners, Alex Noren, the defending champion, and Lee Westwood, the former world No.1. “I really enjoy playing in front of these crowds,” McIlroy said. “They are incredible. Obviously I'd love to get a win here again and if that could kick-start a summer like I had in 2014, I'd be all for that. It's a big weekend for me.“
That all three completed their rounds without dropping a shot spoke volumes for the quality of their play. Noren finished the day on seven under par after a 68, with Westwood (69) two strokes further back. Horsfield, 21, playing his first full season on the European Tour, had a 68.
One player McIlroy will be watching out for is Tommy Fleetwood. The winner of the 2017 Race to Dubai, the Englishman finished with three birdies on the trot for a round of 66 that moved him to within four strokes of the lead and seriously in contention.
“The atmosphere will be great tomorrow but I've got to just keep my head down and concentrate on what I’m doing. Who knows what Rory is going to do? He's one of the best players of all time and he's four clear of me, so it's not going to be an easy task. I’ll do what I can,“ Fleetwood said.