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'It's going to be a big battle': Jon Rahm and Danny Willett lead PGA Championship by three shots

James Corrigan
This would be Jon Rahm's fourth Rolex crown  - Getty Images Europe

If it is a Rolex Series event, then Jon Rahm is at the top of leaderboard. You could almost set your watch by it.

Certainly, it is a lucrative habit to have, with the increased purses of £5 million-plus, and on 15 under par the Spaniard is sharing the BMW PGA Championship lead with England’s Danny Willett. This would be Rahm’s fourth Rolex crown and haul him to the head of the standings in the Race to Dubai.

Rahm has to be the favourite to collect the near £900,000 on Sunday evening, if only because of his ridiculous weekend form when winning on the European Tour. In his four titles, he is a combined 49 under in those eight rounds, with an average of 65.4. But Willett has what Rahm does not – a major championship – and would be boasting the advantage if not for a spectacular par save on the 18th by his playing partner, which saw Rahm hole a 15-footer after finding trouble off the tee.

“I three-putted the 17th from 10 feet [for a bogey], so those last two holes made it look a lot worse than it was,” Rahm said. “It’s going to be a big battle with Danny, but with all the great names on the trophy, this would be another dream come true.”

Willett was content with his own 68 and the very least he will be looking for on Sunday is the top-two finish that will see him return to the world’s top 50 after a two-year absence. If last November’s victory in the DP World Tour Championship was indication that Willett was on the upward trend again following his dramatic slump in the wake of his 2016 Masters glory, then this would be blessed confirmation.

In Rahm's four titles, he is a combined 49 under in those eight rounds, with an average of 65.4 Credit: AFP

There are three shots back to the group in third, comprising another Englishman in Justin Rose, India’s Shubhankar Sharma and South African Christiaan Bezuidenhout. Rose’s eagle on the 17th has kept him in the hunt, despite a bogey on the last for a 69. “Yeah, frustrating way to finish, but I’m in with a shot,” Rose said. “There is wind and rain forecast and if you put together a great round in bad conditions, you can make a big dent into someone’s lead.”

It was another stunning day at the Surrey estate, with huge crowds basking not only in the sun but also in the early-morning 67 shot by Rory McIlroy. Six birdies, an eagle and a solitary bogey advanced the world No 2 to six under and what he hoped would be within striking distance of the pacesetters.

Five years ago, McIlroy went into the final round with the mission of making up a seven-shot deficit and succeeded courtesy of a 66. However, a nine-shot gap is a different matter entirely, especially with front-runners of this quality. “I know I won from seven back a few years ago, but I’m a realist and I feel like that’s something that happens maybe once in your career,” McIlroy said. “But at least I’m moving in the right direction, and that is the main thing.”

But for those seven dropped shots in a bizarre 11 holes in his opening 76, McIlroy would obviously be in contention and looking for his second win in his last three starts (with a runner-up in between). As it is, he only survived the cut after converting a tricky five-footer on the 18th on Friday night. “It’s amazing, I only took two weeks off but it felt like I had not played golf in years on Thursday,” he said. “It has been nice to sort of figure it out a little bit.”

The biggest cheer of the day was reserved for local man Ross Fisher, who made the first-ever competitive albatross on the West Course’s famous 18th hole.

Fisher, the 38-year-old former Ryder Cup player who is a product of Wentworth’s junior scholarship programme, hit a four-iron from 218 yards over the water, landing it 20 feet short before it rolled in dead centre. The prize was a BMW i8 Roadster worth £133,000. It gave Fisher a 29 on the back nine for a 66 to take him to seven under.

“I thought I’d pulled it, so I looked away,” Fisher said. “But the crowd’s reaction told a different story.”