Noren takes charge as McIlroy slips

Alexander Noren leads with a round to play at the Omega European Masters in Switzerland – and how Rory McIlroy and Lee Westwood wish they could have putted like the 27-year-old Swede.

Noren, seeking his first European Tour title, produced a sparkling 63 to move two ahead of South African Charl Schwartzel on 15 under par.

But McIlroy, needing to win to go to the top of the Tour money list, had 33 putts in a 70 which left him 10 adrift in 34th place.

Westwood, with ambitions of finishing the season as number one as well, fared even worse. He three-putted the 14th, four-putted the 15th – both for bogey sixes – and then spun his approach to the last into the water.

That led to another dropped shot, an inward 40 and a 73 which sent him tumbling to 53rd place on only two under.

These were not the starts to the European Ryder Cup points race they were hoping for.

In stark contrast, 27-year-old Noren could hardly miss over the closing stretch.

He was three behind Schwartzel on the 15th tee but sank a seven-foot eagle putt there and then holed from 15 feet at the short 16th and 10 feet on the final green.

“I played pretty much the same as yesterday but was seven shots different, and that was pretty much seven putts different,” he said.

“The greens are good, but as soon as you start missing you start forcing them. Today I was calmer and ’letting it happen’ – as the mental coaches would say.”

The former Oklahoma State student is only 88th on the ’Race to Dubai’ standings, but that is partly explained by two injury lay-offs – first his wrist and then his knee while out running.

Schwartzel shot 65 but was heading for something even better before he went from a greenside bunker into the trees on the 516-yard 15th and took six.

Welshman Bradley Dredge, winner in 2006 and desperate to play against the Americans on home soil at Celtic Manor next October, is three behind in third place following a 68.

The biggest move through the field came from England’s Chris Wood, the Bristol 21-year-old who was fifth in The Open last year as an amateur and then joint third with Westwood at Turnberry in July.

Wood began the day joint 30th with Westwood and McIlroy but ended it joint sixth on 10 under, thanks to a 65.

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