Aphibarnrat leads PGA Championship as Ryder Cup battle hots up

WENTWORTH, UNITED KINGDOM (AFP) – Thailand’s Kiradech Aphibarnrat set the halfway target at the PGA Championship as the battle for the remaining Ryder Cup berths intensified at Wentworth.

Aphibarnrat, who only secured his card on the PGA Tour for next season last week via the Korn Ferry Tour, bounced back from bogeys at 11 and 13 with birdies at the 14, 16th and 17th to record a four-under par round and move to the top of the leaderboard on 12-under.

“I’m really proud the way I played the first two rounds,” said Aphibarnrat.

“I’m really enjoying the moment. Playing freely, striking the ball the best I have in the past two years and enjoying every second that I’m playing well.

“I just want to do what I’ve done in the first two rounds and whatever the result is at the end of the day, I’ll accept it.”

England’s Laurie Canter is one off the lead as he shot a 66 with former world number one Adam Scott and Italy’s Francesco Laporta on 10-under.

Thailand’s Kiradech Aphibarnrat leads at the halfway stage of the PGA Championship at Wentworth. PHOTO: AFP

Justin Rose is one of those looking to seal a Ryder Cup place and is well-positioned alongside Jamie Donaldson and Billy Horschel on nine-under.

Shane Lowry also did his case to be at Whistling Straits later this month no harm with a 66 to move to eight-under.

Lowry and Lee Westwood’s Ryder Cup places are under threat from Austria’s Bernd Wiesberger, who could overtake Rory McIlroy in the European points list with a top-50 finish or better.

That would mean McIlroy qualifies via the world points list instead of Lowry, who in turn could knock Westwood out with a top-eight finish or better, depending on Westwood’s result.

Four places plus Padraig Harrington’s three captains picks are still up for grabs with only Jon Rahm, Tommy Fleetwood, Paul Casey, Viktor Hovland and McIlroy having secured their spots so far with Tyrrell Hatton and Matt Fitzpatrick almost certain to join them.

Westwood was on course to miss the cut when he covered the front nine in 37 to fall back to level par, but made four birdies on the back nine to record a second-successive 70.

But the veteran Englishman criticised the format that has left many players pushing themselves just two weeks out from the Ryder Cup.

“I’m here to try and win the tournament and Sunday night, if you’re in the team, then you start thinking about the Ryder Cup,” Westwood said.

“There’s so many variables, as well, with the way we’ve set up the qualification this time around. This tournament is heavily loaded compared to everything else we’ve done, and I think it’s something to maybe look at in the future.

“I think some of the guys turning up here don’t need this week right now, knowing what the Ryder Cup is like, they don’t need this week, two weeks before the Ryder Cup. It is going to be draining for a few, and you want to be going into the Ryder Cup fresh.

“You can see how players are reacting to it out on the golf course. You know there’s people right in there and they are shooting scores where clearly they have got other things on their mind.”