Danny Willett stumbles backwards after threatening victory procession

Masters champion the joint leader as Shane Lowry five putts the 15th to miss the cut

Strange happenings on the old turf in this corner of England; all a little bizarre and unbelievable if not quite grotesque or unprecedented. If Shane Lowry’s five putts on the 15th green was sufficient to blow a head gasket, leading to a missed cut, there was also the incident of Danny Willett’s sunglasses dropping by his golf ball in the rough on the 17th as he closed in on the leaders at the halfway stage of this BMW PGA Championship on the West Course.

Fortunately for Willett, his glasses were deemed not to have touched the ball, and so he avoided a one-stroke penalty.

It was one of the few good things to happen late on to the Masters champion: he’d covered the front nine in a record 29 strokes, only to lose his mojo on the homeward run to sign for a 68 on 134, 10-under-par.

When the dust had settled, Willett – hoping that home support will inspire him to victory in the way that it did Rory McIlroy last week – shared the midway lead with South Korea's YE Yang, a blast from the past, and Australian Scott Hend, who eagled the 18th hole.


For sure, Willett – golf’s newest Major winner – has played up to role of poster boy here, producing a stellar run on the front nine that threatened to have him run away from the field.

If there was a thought that they might as well hand him the trophy early, given how he claimed six birdies in seven holes on a run from the third, a colder reality soon hit home. Three bogeys in a row from the 15th showed human frailty.

On the 17th, examining the lie of his ball in the rough, Willett stooped and leaned forward only for his glasses to fall. Unsure of whether or not they had touched the ball, he called referee John Paramor to adjudicate. “Obviously with TV these days, people call in and try to have their says, it was just to double check. If JP said it was okay, then I was happy to sign my card,” said Willett.

It was a strange round for the Masters champion, one of two quite different halves if the truth be told. On the front, he could do no wrong. On the back, in a swirling wind, his group was put on the clock and putts that had fallen into the tin cup on the outward run stubbornly refused to drop.

“I played great most of the day and then chucked a couple of horrid golf shots in [late on],” said Willett.

His outward run of 29 strokes was built on a run of four successive birdies from the third, with further birdies on eight and nine. Yet, coming back, time spent double-checking yardages in the blustery conditions to tight flag placements took the steam out of his charge and he was brought back to the pack.

At least Willett got home with his quest for the title intact.

For Lowry, it was a day to forget: a five-putt on the 15th green for a triple-bogey seven was all rather horrible; and it was followed by a double-bogey six on the 16th. In the space of two holes, his race was run and, requiring an eagle at the last, he left his chip from the edge of the green short and missed the birdie putt for good measure.

Unsurprisingly, Lowry was in no mood to hang around after signing his card. “I really don’t want to talk about it,” said the player, who had three top-six finishes here in the past five years.

He later tweeted: “What doesn’t kill you will only make you stronger. That’s my thought for the evening anyway.” His next outing will be at the US Open in Oakmont in a fortnight’s time.

Michael Hoey’s bad streak continued, as he dropped four strokes in his closing four holes for a 78 – for 148 – that saw him miss an 11th straight cut.

Only one Irishman – from eight – was left standing: Graeme McDowell.

McDowell’s second-round 73 for 142 saw him slip down the leaderboard but at least enabled him to survive into the weekend.

“I didn’t play very well, kind of normal service resumed at Wentworth, but I was happy with the way I hung in,” said McDowell, who found only seven of 14 fairways in the round and hit 10 greens in regulation.

“I need to go low [in the third round] to get myself back in the tournament but it is not out of the realms of possibility.”

Philip Reid

Philip Reid

Philip Reid is Golf Correspondent of The Irish Times