Denmark’s Thomas Bjorn and Shane Lowry of Ireland shared the lead in the European PGA Championship here at Wentworth at the end of the second round on Friday.
Bjorn finished the day with an even-par 72, 10 shots higher than his opening course record while Lowry, the 2012 Portugal Masters winner, shot a 70 with birdies at the last two holes.
The pair are four shots clear of Luke Donald and Spaniard Rafa Cabrera-Bello, who were six-under after 36 holes, with the Englishman finishing with a flourish by holing from 24 feet for birdie on the last and a round of 67.
Cabrera-Bello was one-over for the day, shedding shots at the 15th and 17th, but stayed in the hunt when he too birdied the 18th.
There are a clutch of big names on the leaderboard, with Henrik Stenson and Rory McIlory also making progress on day two.
McIlroy, Paraguay’s Fabrizio Zanotti and Swedish pair Jonas Blixt and Stenson were all on 139 — five-under par — and Stenson could become world No. 1 this weekend depending on how Adam Scott fares in the US.
Bjorn was never going to match Friday’s 62 with tougher pin positions and rain falling when he started his round and he was two-over at the turn.
However, birdies at the 12th, 15th and 18th put him in the hunt for his 16th win on the European Tour.
“I have got the experience and I know what it takes to win golf tournaments — but I also know that it can quickly disappear over 36 holes,” Bjorn said. “A lot of things can change in this tournament from here on in, but as long as I stay focused on my game, we’ll see where I am on Sunday. For a European Tour player, this is the biggest event we play outside of majors and World Golf Championships. That says it all.”
Donald’s round, on a happy hunting ground for him, included nine single putts and got him right back in contention for the European Tour’s biggest event, which he won in 2011 and 2012.
McIlroy has been the center of attention at the European Tour’s flagship event after announcing the break-up of his relationship with tennis player Caroline Wozniacki on Wednesday.
He has a poor record on the course, but looked to have buried his demons with his first round until the course hit back on Friday before his final flourish.
McIlroy has managed to keep the off-field distractions in check as he bids for a first win in the European Tour’s flagship event, where he missed the cut for the past two years.
“Three-over-par after seven holes was not great, but it was not disastrous, and I knew I would have chances on the back nine,” McIlroy said.
“There are still 36 holes to go and I feel like I am playing well enough to shoot something in the 60s tomorrow. I am playing well enough to get myself in the mix,” he added. “Once you get inside the ropes you can concentrate on the golf. It is four or five hours of release to get everything out of your head.”
Defending champion Matteo Manassero missed the cut after finishing seven-over.
Other casualties included European Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley, Charl Schwartzel, Ernie Els and Darren Clarke, while Retief Goosen withdrew after six holes on Friday with back trouble.