Noren’s 62 put the brakes on field at BMW PGA – ESPN
Of those toward the head of the leaderboard at the start of play, all joined in the fun, but Shane Lowry and Stenson were at the forefront. The Irishman made five birdies to reach the turn in 30; the Swede was 5 under through 12 holes. The final pairing of Branden Grace and 54-hole leader Andrew Dodt were more becalmed, but also ticking more holes than they squared.
Ahead of them all, and 7 shots in deficit at the start of play, the flawless Noren was exceptional, making four front nine birdies to move into the top 10, then adding three more in three holes from the 12th to grab a share of the lead.
Initially it was only a brief stay at the top as those behind him pushed on, but he drained a 25-foot par breaker on the 16th to rejoin them and then launched a majestic 5-iron approach to the 523-yard par-5 18th hole. It settled 4 feet from the flag, and he never looked in danger of missing the eagle putt.
“The flag was in a great position,” he said afterwards. “It came out perfect; 210-yard carry. Probably one of the best shots I’ve ever hit.”
It broke him from a share of 9 under with Dodt, Grace, Lowry and Stenson who were around the turn. Three of them had a trio of par-5s ahead of them (Stenson had just birdied the first of them, the 12th) so opportunities to catch and pass Noren existed.
However, one by one they began to falter, shots flying left and right; putts refusing to drop.
It was as if a field of high jumpers, having spent half the event gleefully clearing every new height, were now intimidated by the target Noren had set. Instinct was replaced by thought; freedom substituted by fear.
It didn’t help that shortly after Noren signed his card, the first rain of a glorious week arrived, but it was competitive anxiety, not drizzle, which was responsible for dampening the mood of the chasers.
They were spooked. None of them would have known the imperious manner of Noren’s eagle, but the 2-shot lead it created subdued them in a clinical fashion that none could have anticipated.
The Australian international cricketer Matthew Hayden once likened the spooked sportsman to a driver suddenly aware of a police car in his rearview mirror. Previously he had driven free from care yet with great skill and intuition. Now he second-guessed every action — and in doing so became significantly less effective.
Noren was the cop car, the field were the cagey drivers.
That said, by the 18th hole those leaders were less cagey individuals than broken ones. When the birdies dried up, they pushed — and then the bogeys and double bogeys racked up. They limped home, physically bedraggled by the showers, mentally muddied by the winner.
“I’m fairly disappointed at the minute,” said Lowry after making double-bogey on two of his last four holes. “Bit of a mental … bit of a brain fart on 17.” In truth his entire back nine, where he shot 39, was a huge contrast to the brilliance beforehand.
“I think Alex timed it right,” deadpanned Stenson. “It started raining heavily after he finished. I’m sure wasn’t crying in the clubhouse at that point.”
The champion was understandably thrilled with a performance that earns $1,166,660 and vaults him to fourth on the Race to Dubai standings and likely eighth in the world rankings.
“Probably my best ever,” Noren said. “It’s a tough course mentally coming down the stretch. It’s not super narrow, but it’s just if you hit it a little bit wayward, it can cost you. And I putted probably the best I’ve ever putted.” “It feels very amazing and very crazy, because I had no intention of trying to win this morning. You know, I didn’t even think about it. Only after the birdie on 12 did I think it was going very well.
“You always try to get in that zone that everybody talks about, when you’ve got adrenaline mixed with focus. So after that birdie, I started forgetting about this and that, what feels wrong. I just thought: You need to get it done today. There’s no tomorrow kind of feeling.”
Now a nine-time winner on the European Tour, he’s in no doubt that the latest is his finest.
“What I want to do is play better against better fields on better, tougher courses, and I view this as a very difficult course against a very tough field. This is very close to a major in my mind.”
Last July, Stenson was crowned the first Swedish major champion. Sunday at Wentworth, Noren became his country’s first winner of the European Tour’s flagship event. Next week’s Nordea Masters in Malmo, Sweden, was always going to be a celebration. Now it will be nothing less than a national party.