Edoardo Molinari moved into the lead at the Scottish Hydro Challenge after a superb third round display saw him card a four under par 67 in increasingly blustery, gusty conditions at the Macdonald Spey Valley Golf Club.
The Italian, currently second on the Challenge Tour Rankings and already a Challenge Tour champion this season following his victory in the Piemonte Open, cured a putting ill that had caused him frustration over the last few weeks but is now – somewhat ominously for the rest of the field – a thing of the past.
Molinari’s excellent third round effort saw him move to six under for the tournament and establish a one stroke lead over Scotland’s Jamie McLeary and the Englishman, James Ruebotham, going into the final round.
“I have been playing very well from tee to green for a while but this week, in fact just today actually, was the first time that I have putted well,” revealed Molinari.
“ Even yesterday I had five three putts for level par, but today was a lot better – I didn’t make any mistakes with the putter today. I moved the ball back in my stance a little bit at the start of the week and seem to be striking the ball a lot better.
“I am confident of winning here because I have been playing well for the last three months and now that I am putting well I feel very confident that I can win tomorrow.”
While Molinari’s four under third round was an outstanding effort in the conditions, it was not the best round of the day. That honour fell to his countryman, Lorenzo Gagli, whose five under 66 was the best score of the week and moved him into contention on three under alongside another Scot, Peter Whiteford.
Scott Jamieson brought the number of Scots in the top eight to three as he joined Sion Bebb and last year’s British amateur Champion Reiner Saxton on two under.
But, despite dropping two shots in his last three holes, it is McLeary who has the best opportunity to provide a home winner on Sunday afternoon as the Edinburgh-based 28 year old hopes to make his Challenge Tour breakthrough on home soil and pick up the €32,000 first prize.
“That was a very disappointing finish,” admitted McLeary. “There were two bogeys in there but it felt like three dropped shots because I should have birdied the 17th. I hit a great drive down the last and only had 96 yards to the pin but I had to back off and then, when I went back to the shot, I hit it and got a terrible gust and it spun back off the green to about 30 yards.
“I played okay all day – it was very tough out there so Edoardo’s four under is a great effort. I know if I can go under par tomorrow then I will have a chance if the weather is the same as we have had all week. I still have a great chance and I am looking forward to it. I just have to hope that the guys around me start thinking about it too much and give me a chance to sneak in there.”
It looks unlikely that former Open Champion Paul Lawrie will be in the hunt for the top prize after a third round of four over 74 left him ten shots off the pace.