Graeme McDowell was the only player in the top-10 who failed to break par after just managing an even par effort on a frustrating moving day stroll around Italy.
Bidding for a second Italian Open title, McDowell, Ireland’s sole representative over the weekend in Rome, traded four bogeys with four birdies and now trails Matthew Fitzpatrick atop the board by six.
The 40-year old, a 10-time European Tour winner, shares 10th at seven-under par after Fitzpatrick staged an impressive fightback with four birdies in his final six holes to maintain his one shot lead going into the final round at the fifth event in the European Tour’s Rolex Series.
The former Ryder Cup player bogeyed the second hole after an opening birdie and then slipped to one over par for his third round with a further bogey on the tenth hole. But he rallied impressively with birdies on the 13th, 15th, 16th and 17th holes to sign for a round of 68 and preserve his one shot overnight advantage on 13-under par.
“(My caddie) Billy just kept talking me through it, saying just be patient,” said the Englishman. “I said to him down the hill on 12, it didn’t feel like I should be one over. It felt like the way my swing felt, I didn’t hit as many good as good shots as I would have liked around the turn, so that cost me a little bit. Put me back. But to finish the way I did, was great.
“The par saves on 11 and 12 were huge. They were really, really important, and they felt really good, as well, because it’s something I’ve been working on, my short game, obviously everyone is always working on something, but just to see it pay off today, particularly under the pressure was good.
“To put myself one in front going into tomorrow gives me a little bit of help, but yeah, I’m just looking forward and ready to go already.”
Fitzpatrick has finished runner up three times so far this season and he is seeking a sixth European Tour title to extend his winning run to five consecutive seasons.
His nearest rival is American Kurt Kitayama, a two-time winner already in 2019, who moved serenely through the field with a bogey-free round of 65 to sit one shot back on 12-under par.
Scotland’s Robert MacIntyre went one shot better with a seven under par round of 64 as he moved into contention for another shot at a maiden European Tour title.
The Challenge Tour graduate has impressed in his rookie season on the European Tour, also finishing runner up on three occasions so far, and he will start the final round two shots adrift on 11-under par.
“That round is up there (among his best this year). I seem to be getting in positions and just letting it fall away, but today, me and Greg have been talking about just staying in the present. Just do what we do, and today, we done that. Managed to get a good result.
“When I get too aggressive, it actually affects me. So it’s just about playing to my strengths and the course kind of suits the driver. So we’re just going at it this week and it seems to be working.
“My goal now is just trying to get my mind off trying to win. It’s about trying to get as many World Ranking points as I can to try to end the season as high as possible. Everybody knows why they want to end the season high, but the win is irrelevant of what I’m trying to achieve. I’ve just got to go and play my game, and if the win comes, well, I’m sure I’ll celebrate it.”
Englishman Matt Wallace and Austrian Bernd Wiesberger share fourth place on 10-under par after both players carded rounds of 67.
Full scoring HERE