Luke Donald was paid a huge compliment by Colin Montgomerie today after a masterful 64 at windy Wentworth left England’s world number two feeling “a little bit invincible”.
In a sudden return to form – he is without a top-10 finish for almost three years and now 462nd on the rankings – Montgomerie had kept pace with Donald over the first 14 holes of the BMW PGA Championship.
But while last year’s Ryder Cup captain covered the closing stretch in three over par for a 69, Donald’s two more birdies took him to seven under and enabled him to match the lowest European Tour round of his career.
“He is a better player than I ever was,” said Montgomerie, eight times Europe’s leading money-winner and five times a runner-up in majors.
“I relied wholeheartedly on hitting fairways and greens. He has a much better short game.
“He’s playing the best golf in the world right now and not only can I see him winning this, I can see a European win at the US Open again.
“When we discussed the picks for the Ryder Cup he was very much the first-choice pick.”
With Lee Westwood managing only a 72 Donald is now odds-on to take the world number one spot off him on Sunday.
Two ahead of 18-year-old Italian Matteo Manassero and Swede Johan Edfors as the late starters battled with a heavy downpour as well as the blustery conditions, Donald could hardly have been happier.
Runner-up in the event last year – a seven on the long 17th was his undoing - he said: “It’s hard to block stuff like that out sometimes, but I was hitting the driver great.
“I just stepped up there and striped one right down the middle.”
It led to one of eight birdies, his only mistake coming when he pulled his approach to the 480-yard 12th into the trees and had to chip out sideways.
The hole used to be a par five in any case, so it was hardly a big setback.
“That was probably one of the best rounds I’ve ever played,” he said. “The wind was swirling, there were some showers and this isn’t an easy course in the best of conditions.
“I guess you feel a little bit invincible. You just have a lot of good feelings – to control the ball as well as I did is very satisfying.”
There were a lot of other big names wishing they could have said the same.
Rory McIlroy had two double bogeys in a 76, defending champion Simon Khan matched that and US Open champion Graeme McDowell was only one better.
Masters winner Charl Schwartzel, meanwhile, was seven over after only eight holes, Paul McGinley shot 80 and Nick Dougherty’s horror start to 2011 – 10 missed cuts out of 10 – continued with an 82.
Manassero, though, kept alive his hopes of a third victory in just over a year as a professional.
Incredibly, he could even be in the world’s top 15 by the end of the weekend – and have his second million euros in the bank.
Play was suspended at 5.10pm because of an approaching thunderstorm with Donald still two ahead of Manassero and Edfors.
There was a further two-shot gap to Welshman Bradley Dredge, who had just bogeyed the long 17th, and England’s Ross McGowan, while Ian Poulter had joined the group on two under and had five to play.
Meanwhile Ryder Cup captain Jose Maria Olazabal was one of three players to quit.
Plagued by rheumatic pains in recent years the 45-year-old withdrew with a back problem at five over par after seven holes.
England’s Paul Waring (hand) and Dutchman Robert-Jan Derksen (rib) also withdrew.