The past champions of the European Tour BMW PGA Championship include many of the game’s best players—major champions Danny Willett, Rory Mcilroy, and Francesco Molinari have won this event in the last seven years alone—but no one told Francesco Laporta.
Despite coming off a fourth place finish at the Italian Open last week, Laporta entered the week 264th in the Official World Golf Ranking and 75th on the European Tour Race to Dubai. To call him a long shot at the start of the week would’ve been an understatement.
Euro Tour’s flagship event in one of London’s ritziest suburbs has been overtaken by a wrestling heel in PXG gear pic.twitter.com/Y34c25rmyh
— Brendan Porath (@BrendanPorath) September 11, 2021
But Laporta has found himself atop the leaderboard nonetheless. An eagle at the fourth got him to two under on the day, and he went out in 34 after a bogey at the 7th. The 30-year old kept his composure down the stretch and signed for 69 to take a one shot lead at 14 under thru 54 holes.
The Italian said he felt far more pressure playing at home in last week’s Italian Open, and that he is looking forward to having another shot at his first European Tour win Sunday.
“I like to be under pressure. This is what we play for. And the crowd is amazing. I’m just looking forward to playing tomorrow and seeing all the crowds,” Laporta said.
Laporta is likely in for a rough night of sleep with several big names lurking close behind. 2014 FedEx Cup champion Billy Horschel, 2013 Masters champion Adam Scott—who’s playing this event for the first time since 2006—and 2019 Open Champion Shane Lowry are all within two shots of the lead.
Horschel returned to Wentworth this week after a T4 finish in 2019, he is the lone American who primarily plays on the PGA Tour to make the trip across the pond. Horschel acknowledged that not many American players consider European Tour events to be amongst the games best, but it is for Horschel.
“There's tournaments as pros that we want to win, the Players, the majors, maybe a few others but as an American, you don't usually say a tournament on The European Tour,” Horschel said. “To win the BMW PGA Championship would be equal to me as a PLAYERS championship.”
Arnold Palmer is the only American player to win the BMW PGA Championship, doing so at Royal St George's in 1975.
One day after what would have been Palmer's 92nd birthday, @BillyHo_Golf is in position to possibly join The King. Currently just 2 off the lead at Wentworth.
— Justin Ray (@JustinRayGolf) September 11, 2021
European Ryder Cup qualifying has added an intriguing subplot to this week’s event. Bernd Wiesberger is in good position to qualify as he currently sits in a tie for 7th. Wiesberger earning his spot would bump Rory Mcilroy to the world’s point list and create even further confusion.
The last qualifying spot will come down to Shane Lowry and Lee Westwood. As things stand, Westwood would get the nod, but that could easily change with Lowry in contention and Westwood down near the bottom of the leaderboard.
Lowry noted that it has been a stressful week and admitted he was keeping an eye on Wiesberger’s score Saturday. Lowry said he threw away his chances of making the 2014 European squad, and he’s determined not to do the same this year.
“It's been a stressful week but I'm proud of myself and the way I've handled it and played some good golf and put myself in position,” Lowry said. “It's up to me going out and try to relax as much as I can. I've been in big, high-pressure situations before and I'm not going to back down or shy away. I'm going to go out tomorrow and work as hard as I can to achieve my career-long goal.”