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VIRGINIA WATER, England, May 26 (Reuters) - Henrik Stenson's title rivals will be looking over their shoulders after the Swede moved menacingly within two shots of the BMW PGA Championship lead despite being below his best on Friday.
Combatting winds gusting up to 20mph on another hot summer's day at Wentworth, the British Open winner scrambled his way to a second-round 71 that left him handily placed behind pacesetting trio Thomas Pieters, Francesco Molinari and Scott Jamieson.
"I didn't play great but I kept it together with some nice par saves and a couple of nice putts," said world number five Stenson after finishing with a five-under aggregate of 139 at the European Tour's flagship event.
"There were some tough pin positions and it was a little gusty too. It's not playing too easy out there."
Stenson's good friend and Ryder Cup partner Justin Rose can vouch for that after the Olympic gold medallist and world number nine narrowly made the cut despite plunging to a 74 for 146.
The 41-year-old Swede ended his round in confidence-boosting fashion by delivering a precise approach to within a foot of the flag for a birdie four at the 18th.
"If you can get to about a dozen under-par by Sunday I think you'll be in the mix," said Stenson.
"Shooting level-par today wouldn't have put me in the right direction but I hit a good wedge at the last. That's always been a strength of mine and it was nice to finish that way."
Italy's Molinari has finished in the top 10 here in four of the last five seasons and was delighted to again end his round with a double-birdie blast.
"It was a lot windier than yesterday and it was gusting so it was hard to get the clubs right," said the Italian after signing for a 70.
"It's a tough, tough course in these conditions. It's playing firm and you have to be in the fairways, otherwise you're really struggling."
Scotland's Jamieson held his nerve after a jittery bogey-par-double bogey opening to record a matching 70.
"It's a tough stretch of the golf course especially the way the wind was blowing today," said the Scot.
"The last thing you need to do in that situation is panic. Just try and take a wee minute to yourself and start again."
Pieters, who made a spectacular Ryder Cup debut when Europe lost to the United States in Minnesota last year, went round in 69.
"I love this type of golf course," said the Belgian. "You have to think a lot more rather than just throw darts at the flag.
"You need to hit it in front of the flags sometimes and let it release. Even with a wedge you have to play for a couple of bounces and then check."
Germany's Max Kieffer (68) was alone in fourth position on 138, one ahead of Stenson, 2015 winner An Byeong Hun of South Korea, England's Lee Westwood, South African Branden Grace and overnight leader Johan Carlsson of Sweden. (Editing by Ken Ferris)