On a warm and sunny day, the Italian Ryder Cup player defied a gusting, swirling wind to produce a bogey-free round of 66 that was made up of six birdies and 12 pars. While others struggled to tame the course, he went quietly and efficiently about his business.
By way of contrast, McIlroy had a day of mixed fortunes. He started the round with a lead of three strokes over the field and ended it alongside Molinari, on 13 under par, after a round of 71. With defending champion Alex Noren (SWE), Branden Grace (SA), Ross Fisher and Sam Horsfield (both ENG) all within four strokes of the lead, it has set up an intriguing final day.
In the second round, McIlroy gave an exhibition of ball-striking of the highest calibre; in the third round, he sprayed the ball to all parts and hit three spectators, one of them a marshal, in the process. Yet despite dropping three shots in his first six holes, he claimed them all back with birdies at four of the next 12. It is what is known as “winning ugly”.
Asked if the crowds were standing too close to the course, he joked: “If you strike the ball like I did today, yes they are. But in general, they aren’t.”
In every sense this was Molinari’s day. A West Course specialist - he has had five top ten finishes in his last six appearances at Wentworth and finished runner-up last year to Noren - he has dropped just two strokes in 54 holes. More of the same and he will push McIlroy all the way to the line in the quest to win one of the game’s most coveted trophies.
“It was gusting and it wasn't easy, so it was nice to keep a clean scorecard,” Molinari said. “It’s a challenging course but I think if you hit good shots, you can make a few birdies here and there. I love it, and hopefully it will be another good day tomorrow.”