A last hole birdie for a third day running kept Rory McIlroy right in the frame to capture a seventh national ‘Open’ title at the DS Automobiles Italian Open in Rome.
McIlroy ended golf’s traditional moving day posting a lacklustre level par 71 but still remains right in the winners mix sharing second place at nine under par with Englishman Aaron Rai who signed for a 65 on the Marco Simone host course.
Englishman and reigning US Open champ Matthew Fitzpatrick regained the lead in posting a two-under 69 to move one clear of the field on 10-under.
Three players -Aussie Lucas Herbert (68), Frenchman Victor Perez (69 and American Kurt Kitayama (67) – share fourth on eight-under.
Another three players are at seven-under-par and only three shots off the lead.
Day three on the 2023 Ryder Cup course to the north-east of the Italian capital greeted the players with bright but very windy conditions, at times nudging 30kph before easing appreciably for those out in the later half of the draw.
McIlroy had birdied the last in near darkness on day two but it was a string of five opening pars for the World No. 2 who is looking to add the Italian Open crown to six other ‘Open’ victories – Hong Kong Open (2011), US Open (2013), Australian Open (2013), the Open Championship (2014), Irish Open (2016) and Canadian Open titles (2019).
“National Opens are pretty important things in our game and I’ve been quite fortunate that I’ve won a few of them,” said McIlroy. “To win the Italian Open would be another great one to add to the list. So big incentive tomorrow to go out and play well.
“I know it will be a tough day. ‘Fitz’ is very solid. These are the sort of conditions that he relishes. He’s going to be tough to beat”.
The triple FedEx Cup winner picked-up a first birdie holing a four-footer at the par-4 sixth hole but then dropped shots at the seventh and 12th holes to be one-over for his round.
McIlroy got back to level for the day in landing his second shot to four-feet on 16 but gave it back immediately in missing green well right of the par-3 17th and then chipping and two-putting for a bogey ‘4’.
He then two-putted the par-5 18th to tie the then lead with Rai and Fitzpatrick only for Fitzpatrick moments later to hole a three-footer for the overnight third day lead.
“You know, every birdie I made, I followed it with a bogey, so that was not good,” added McIlroy. “But just when the wind got up there when we turned, I struggled with the putter all day but I think especially when the wind got up, I struggled just to sort of commit to reads, and do I play the wind, do I not play the wind. I held a couple of nice ones coming in but missed a lot of opportunities there at sort of the start of the middle of the round.
“Sort of thankfully I’m still in it. Still only one shot back. I think I’ll be in the final group tomorrow. So that was a big putt on 18 to hole so I can keep an eye on Fitz and what he’s doing.”
Ryder Cup captain Luke Donald had one of those rounds he’d rather forget shooting, a 76, as he dropped back into a share of 46th place at level par.
Royal Dublin’s Niall Kearney had posted a second round 67 to end a run of weekend outs but a third day 74 to drop to three-over for the event was not what he wanted.
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