JON Rahm and Danny Willett share a two-shot halfway lead at the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth.
They head a star-studded leaderboard – also featuring local heroes Justin Rose and Paul Casey among others – sets up a thrilling weekend at the Surrey club’s Burma Road.
The 2016 Masters Tournament champion Willett delighted the 20,802 spectators with a stunning seven-under par 65 – equalling the best score this week – which caught fire straight from the off in the fourth Rolex Series event of the 2019 Race to Dubai.
The 31-year-old from Sheffield – already a Rolex Series winner at the 2018 DP World Tour Championship, Dubai – was five-under through five holes courtesy of three birdies and an eagle at the fifth, before picking up another shot at the ninth to clear the front nine in just 29 shots.
Back to back birdies at the 11th and 12th were offset by a single bogey at the 14th as he moved to an 11-under total.
The 2016 Masters Champion said: “We hit a lot of good shots. Holed some nice kind of mid-range putts and I think with the wind picking up it’s probably better that you don’t expect that coming in.
“You just try and hit some good golf shots and see what it gives you, and fortunately today it gave us a pretty quick start,” said the former English and Spanish Amateur Champion.
“It’s amazing. It’s my 10th straight year, and playing with Westy (Lee Westwood), I think it’s his 26th.
“It’s one of those places where you love coming back. The crowds are amazing. They always are.
“I’ve had a couple nice finishes around here and the crowds help you along and really get behind you, and it’s a fantastic spectacle for golf.
“For me, and I think if you ask anyone out here, it’s the best condition I’ve seen it in the 10 years I’ve been here.
“It’s all set up for a really good weekend,” said the Yorkshireman who made his name as an amateur at Rotheram GC, rising to World No. 1 in the World Amateur Golf Rankings before turning pro in 2009.
Willett joined his fellow former Ryder Cup player Rahm at the summit after the Spanish sensation battled from successive bogeys on the opening two holes, following them up with four birdies on the bounce to move to reach the turn in two under.
The 24-year-old dropped a shot at the 10th but two more birdies, along with an eagle three at the last mean he is in the hunt for a fourth Rolex Series title.
Rahm, who is looking for his fourth Rolex win this weekend on the West Course said: “Made two bogeys on the first two, but it’s not like I had major misses or it just felt bad.
“It happens on this course, one is a tough hole and two was short, basically one yard off on both tee shots. I didn’t get too frustrated.
“I just capitalised on the putts that I had. I would say that birdie on three was very important, to get that one going before the par-five, knowing if I put it in the fairway I have a decent chance at a birdie.
“Being out there after 36 holes, with 36 to go, it’s important to have a chance, especially on a course that I’ve never seen before and a tournament this important.
“It is the Rolex Series, it’s a tournament we all want to win. There’s a lot of history here and a lot of legends on the walls, so it would be great to join that great list of players,” said Rahm who would love to follow in his hero’ Seve Ballesteros’ footsteps after he won the PGA at Wentworth in 1991.
Former World No, 1 Rose signed for a four-under 68 as he chases a first win at Wentworth, and he was joined on nine-under par by Henrik Stenson – alongside whom the Englishman has forged such a spectacular Ryder Cup partnership – as well as South Africa’s Christiaan Bezuidenhout.
Stenson said: “It’s always been nice to play Wentworth. The crowds have always been great and it’s got a lot of history on the European Tour, so it’s always nice to be back.
“I’m pretty pleased with the day’s work, especially being one-over through eight holes. I finished with nice wedge and putt on the last.”
Rose, who like Paul Casey, used to watch the PGA at Wentworth as youngsters, said: “I didn’t feel that comfortable with the driver yesterday but today I drove it much better.
“I thought it was a good round. I call this a bucket list event, this is one I’d dearly love to win. It’s my home event, really. It’s one I’ve watched since I was a little kid.”
Casey, a Surrey native, is two shots further back on seven-under, alongside American Billy Horschel, who is making his BMW PGA Championship debut this week.
Casey, who won the BMW PGA in 2009 and also the HSBC World Match Play on the Burma Road, in 2006, said: “I know this place incredibly well – local boy, local crowds.
“Everything about this feels kind of like a home tournament for me. I love it. That doesn’t make it easy, though. I think this golf course is difficult.
“You’ve got to play extremely good stuff. I’m always proud of the way I play when I play well around here.”
Bezuidenhout, who won the Andalucia Masters, at Valderamma, at the end of June, said: “I was pleased with the way I handled myself when things were not going my way.
“I was hitting it well but hit a couple of bad shots. I just kept my composure and tried to minimise the mistakes out there.
“You need to hit a lot of fairways here to make a score. I’m just going to try and do that and see how it goes come Sunday.”
Florida-based Horschel, who has been following Wentworth on TV for most of his golf life, said: “It’s exceeded my expectations this week. This course, I’ve been watching since I was 12.
“It’s a beautiful golf course on TV, and you get here and it’s even better in person.
“We’ve had a great game plan this week, but the more you play it, the more comfortable you get with the shots you’ve got to hit.”
Play was suspended overnight in round two with six players yet to complete their round.
•For live scores after its completion and during round three click here.