Lorenzo Gagli will take a slender one stroke lead into the final round of the ALLIANZ Europen de Strasbourg-Golf de la Wantzenau after an up and down three under par 69 in France.
The Italian carded only five pars in his third round at Golf de la Wantzenau, firing eight birdies and five bogeys as he struggled with his iron play.
After recovering from a shaky start it looked as if the 24 year old was set to establish a sizable advantage at the top of the leaderboard but Spaniard Alvaro Velasco piled on the pressure with a superb back nine.
Velasco made four birdies on the way in, after reaching the turn in level par for the day, to sign for a 68. He is one stroke behind Gagli who leads on 16 under par 200.
Gagli had earlier bogeyed the first and fourth holes but struck back in style with four consecutive birdies from the fifth.
He dropped another shot on the ninth before further birdies on the 12th, 13th, 15th and 16th– with a bogey sandwiched in between on the 14th.
Another mistake on the 17th saw his lead eroded to one shot but a superb chip to two feet to save par on the last meant Gagli is in pole position to give Italian golf another boost, following his close friend Edoardo Molinari’s European Tour victory last week.
“I made eight birdies today but finished with a 69,” he said. “You expect more from a round when you have that many birdies but I’m still happy because I’m leading.
“I didn’t play too well today but I putted very well and made many long putts. I made a great chip from a difficult position on the last to make sure I’m leading by one. I made some mistakes with my irons today but I’m feeling confident about tomorrow.”
Gagli is currently languishing in 57th position on the European Challenge Tour rankings but a strong finish in the final round would significantly boost his prospects of moving into the all-important top 20 to join compatriot and friend Molinari on The European Tour next season.
“I’m trying not to think about winning – just about playing well,” said Gagli. “Every time I had a bogey today and I just thought about my routine again and I bounced back straight after with a birdie.”
Velasco is also bidding for his maiden Challenge Tour title but hoping to deny both men is Australian Daniel Gaunt, who captured his first victory in similar circumstances at the English Challenge earlier this season.
Gaunt, who carded a 73, finds himself in a exactly the same position he did at Stoke-by-Nayland– four behind the leader after setting the pace himself in the first two rounds.
He overcame amateur Tommy Fleetwood to win the English Challenge and there is another amateur in contention this week with 19 year old Frenchman Romain Wattel continuing his impressive challenge with a round of 68 to move to 12 under par, level with Gaunt.
Wattel said: “I played really well and just made one mistake on the 14th when I went in the water but I had six birdies so I’m very happy.
“I made every fairway and then every green apart from 14 and my putting was great. I’m enjoying being in this position and I enjoy all the people watching me – I’ve had some great support with being a French player.”
Englishman Simon Wakefield, who is looking to regain his European Tour status, fired the round of the day – and joint lowest of the tournament – as he eagled the fifth hole and posted five birdies in a superb 64.
That moved him up to 11 under par for the tournament and a share of fifth place, alongside Canadian Matthew Bliss (65) and German Bernd Ritthammer (66).