Edoardo Molinari’s imperious season continued as he took a stranglehold of the Kazakhstan Open with a round of 66 on day three of the €400,000 event.
The Italian, who has already collected €124,080 thanks largely to one victory and a further seven top ten finishes this season, leads by three shots from Sweden’s Peter Gustafsson after another masterclass at Zhailjau Golf Resort in Almaty, Kazakhstan.
Six birdies in his flawless round of 66 moved Molinari to 16 under par and put him on course to smash David Horsey’s record earnings of €144,118, achieved last season.
England’s Chris Gane is four strokes back after a round of 68, with a quintet of players a shot further back on 11 under par: the English trio of Gary Boyd, Daniel Denison and Andrew Marshall, Welshman Rhys Davies and Frenchman Julien Quesne.
But they face a stiff examination in trying to overhaul Molinari, who believes that a closing round of 68 will put him beyond reach.
He said: “My round today was very similar to my third round in Holland last week, so I was very pleased with the score – especially as I didn’t drop any shots. I drove the ball well again today, but my putting was the main reason for my low score. I didn’t really miss any short putts at all, whether it be for birdie or par. There are some very tricky holes so you have to take advantage of the par fives, and I managed to birdie them all. Whenever you do that, you’re probably going to shoot low.
“I’ve been in this position a few times before this season and a couple of times I finished second, like in Geneva and Scotland. But I only had a one-shot lead both times, so the three-shot cushion should give me a bit more breathing space. If I can get to 20 under par, I don’t think anyone will be able to catch me. If they can, then good luck to them – I would be happy to finish second!”
Gustafsson conceded he faces a tall task in trying to deny Molinari his second Challenge Tour victory of the season and fourth overall. But the Swede believes his greater need – he is currently languishing in 51st place after only one top ten finish all season – might work to his advantage.
He said: “Edoardo’s obviously playing very well and will be tough to beat, but then again he doesn’t have the same motivation as me, because I desperately need to move up the Rankings, whereas he has already guaranteed his card for next season. So that might work to my advantage, but then again he can afford to relax, which might work to his. So we’ll see. All I can do is to try to make some chances and try to take them. I’m just happy to be in a contention to win the tournament, because it’s been a while since I’ve been in this position.”
The same goes for Chris Gane, whose highest finish so far this season is tied eighth in Kenya and Wales.
He said: “The front nine today was just ridiculous – it was probably the best I’ve played all season. I birdied the first three holes, nearly birdied the next two, birdied the sixth, lipped out on the eighth and then again for eagle on the ninth. So I could’ve quite easily shot 29. On the back nine, I probably played just as well but it’s much harder, and the putts didn’t drop. But if you’d offered me a 68 at the start of the day, I would’ve bitten your hand off.”
Gane’s compatriot Denison was equally delighted with a round of 66 which represented his lowest since returning to full fitness following the broken leg he suffered in a car crash in 2007.
He said: “I’ve still got some physio and strength work to do, but I’m more or less over it now – I’d say around 90 per cent or so. So I’ve still got a bit of work to do in the winter to get ready for next season. But I don’t really get tired out on the course any more – my stamina’s ok. I think if I had to play four weeks in a row it might be a problem, but I can easily handle four rounds.
“I was pleased with how I played today. I didn’t get off to the best of starts with a bogey, but I played well from then on and I putted particularly well, which is the key round here with the slopey greens. But I didn’t play spectacularly well – I just hit some nice shots and took most of my chances when they came my way. With so many birdie chances out there, particularly on the front nine, I’ve got some ground to make up. But we’ll see what tomorrow brings. I’m just happy to be in contention again.”
Welshman Davies is getting used to being in contention, having already won twice this season, and a third victory would instantly propel him onto The European Tour.
He said: “I played very nicely today, helped by a couple of eagles on the front nine, which really got me going. I drove the ball when for most of the round – one or two went astray. But even when I did miss the greens and fairways, I played sensibly and got up and down. My short game was working well today, which always helps keep the score down.
“I’ve been playing well all season really. I’ve been pretty consistent, which has been key, and obviously the two wins have helped a lot too. I’m just enjoying playing golf, and playing good golf. All I do is try to shoot as low as I can every round, and more often than not I’ve been able to do that this season. Hopefully I can do the same again tomorrow.”