Alex Noren’s playing partner in the final round of the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth, former U.S. Amateur champion Peter Uihlein, called it “the best round of golf I’ve ever seen,” one he was glad to witness first hand. European Ryder Cup skipper Thomas Bjorn labelled Noren’s bogey-free effort “beyond impressive.” Noren himself said it was “probably my best-ever round.” And just about everyone else in the field for the European Tour’s flagship event could only shake their heads in wonder.
Which is understandable. Teeing-off almost two hours before the 54-hole leaders and six strokes off the pace, Noren made eight birdies and a closing eagle to shoot 62 over the newly re-vamped Burma Road course, win for the fifth time in the last 10 months and claim $1,166,660, the biggest share of the $7 million prize fund in the first of the European Tour’s eight-strong Rolex Series of elite events.
It was a score that also, in the words of former European Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley, “drained the energy out of those playing behind.” Indeed, amidst heavy rain on the back nine that contrasted markedly with the benign conditions Noren enjoyed, the former leaders soon became forlorn chasers. No one other than the eventual runner-up, Francesco Molinari, got within three shots of the new champion’s 11-under-par 277. And only the 65s shot by Noren’s fellow early starters, Nicolas Colsaerts and Dean Burmeister, were within three shots of the Swede’s new course record.
Perhaps now, the 34-year-old former Oklahoma State golfer will begin to garner the respect his recent outstanding play clearly merits. Last year, he rose more than 100 places in the World Rankings to ninth, making him only the fourth Swede (after Henrik Stenson, Robert Karlsson and Jesper Parnevik) to achieve that feat. And this season, following his 2016 victories at the Scottish Open, European Masters, British Masters and Netbank Challenge, he was a quarter finalist in the World Match Play Championship and 10th at the recent Players Championship. A final-round 68 (when he shot 77) would have won him the Wells Fargo Championship, too.
“The more times you get into contention, the more confident you get,” points out McGinley. “And that’s exactly where Alex is at the moment. He’s in a purple patch. He’s in contention regularly. And as a result he’s winning.”
Ironically, this rush of success comes at a time when Noren has never practiced less. Once the hardest worker on the European Tour—as a result he developed tendinitis in both wrists and was able to play only twice in 2014—he is now only one of the last to leave the range. With recent fatherhood (his daughter Irina was born last year) has come greater perspective. And now, the biggest win of his career.
“Wentworth is such a tough course mentally,” Noren said. “It’s not super-narrow but if you are a little bit wayward it can cost you. And I putted the best I have ever putted. I wasn’t thinking much about the deficit. I was just trying to play a good round and get into next week [the Nordea Masters in his native Sweden]. I finished the last hole in the third round very badly [he made a double-bogey seven]. I was very angry, then took a long rest and just tried to have a good day.”
That he did. As for the clinching eagle on 18, it came as a result of a 5-iron approach to six feet.
“It was a 5-iron yardage with a bit of adrenaline in there,” Noren said. “The flag was in a great position because I knew I couldn’t hit it over the green. I could just hit as hard as I could. And it came out perfect, that one shot you want to see in the air.”