The final day of the Apulia San Domenico Grand Final seems set to be a titanic battle of the young guns, with home hero Andrea Pavan and rising English star Tommy Fleetwood fighting for the right to be crowned the winner of both the season-ending event and the Challenge Tour Rankings.
Pavan, the supremely gifted 22 year old who is sponsored by San Domenico Golf, edged ahead of overnight leader Fleetwood, who understandably struggled to maintain the momentum built up by his sensational round of 61 on day two.
Six birdies in a faultless round of 65 carried Pavan to the head of affairs on 17 under par, one stroke ahead of Fleetwood, who signed for a round of 69.
The 20 year old from Southport, England, still remains on course to become the youngest winner of the Challenge Tour Rankings, provided he finishes in the top two. But if he were to slip to third place or worse and Pavan prevails, the Roman would follow in the footsteps of his friend and compatriot Edoardo Molinari, winner of the Challenge Tour in 2009.
So the scene is set for a day of high drama in the Puglia region of Italy, especially with strong winds expected to blow in from the Adriatic Sea.
Pavan said: “Of course it would mean a lot to me to become the first Italian to win the Grand Final, especially because I’m attached to San Domenico, so this is like my second home here. It’s a great place, and it would be fantastic to repay them by winning here. I can’t control that though – I’ll just play my game. If I keep on playing like this, I think I have a good chance, but you never know what other guys can shoot.
“Tommy’s a really good guy and a great player, so it should be a nice round tomorrow and hopefully I can enjoy it. I don’t really have a score in mind for tomorrow, it just depends on how strong the wind is going to be. If it’s going to blow 30mph or so, probably 20 under would be a good score. But you can’t predict the outcome, so I’ll just go out there and try to take it shot by shot and hole by hole, and hopefully make as many birdies as I can.”
Fleetwood blamed a cold putter for a display which never quite hit the heights of the previous day’s pyrotechnics, but the former English and Scottish Amateur Champion is confident of ending his stunning season on a high note.
He said: “I actually played pretty well today, just couldn’t really buy a putt. I suppose it was always going to be difficult to follow up a 61, but I was fairly pleased with how I struck the ball out there today. If a few more putts had dropped I’d probably be leading rather than one behind, but that’s golf for you.
“It was definitely Andrea’s day today – he didn’t make any huge putts, but he holed out really well. But hopefully it’ll be my day tomorrow. I’m really looking forward to it. It’s been a great season whatever happens, but obviously ending it with another win would be pretty special, so that’s what I’ll be trying to do.”
Lower down the Rankings, the most significant moves of the day were made by England’s Andrew Johnston and Frenchman Victor Rui, who both shot rounds of 65 to leap into contention to claim a place in the top 20.
Johnston, who began the day in a tie for eighth place, was treading water until the 11th hole, where a morale-boosting eagle proved the catalyst for a blistering six under par back nine of 31 which moved him to third place on 14 under par. Were he to hold his position in the top three, the in-form Englishman would climb from his current position of 27th into the top 15 to secure a debut season on The European Tour next year.
He said: “I needed a good round today to push up the leaderboard, and I got it. I needed something to kick-start my round, and the eagle putt on the 13th did just that. I then hit a great shot on the next and sunk the putt for birdie, which really got me going and I finished strongly.
“It sets me up nicely for the final day, and hopefully I can carry on the momentum. I haven’t got a score in mind and I won’t be worrying about what anyone else is doing – I’m just going to go out there and play, and hope it’s good enough. If not, then at least I will have given it my best shot.”
Riu is one place behind Johnston on 13 under par, and the in-form Frenchman is confident of keeping his hot streak going for one last day, having finished tied seventh, joint eighth and tied tenth in his last three Challenge Tour appearances.
He said: “I’ve made three top tens in a row in my last three tournaments, so I’m in good shape at the moment. I made some changes to my swing last winter and it just took time to come together, so I missed many cuts at the start of the season, but then it came together.
“I think I’ll probably need top three with no ties, but I’ve given myself every chance. I have nothing to lose, I just have to play aggressive in the final round and see what I can do. I think if it’s windy on the final day it will be better for me, because I prefer it when it’s windy.”
Earlier in the day, England’s Andrew Marshall had boosted his outside chances of claiming a place in the top 20 of the Rankings with a hole in one at the eighth hole, where he struck a three iron 197 yards into the cup. Marshall, who shot a round of 68, currently shares sixth place on 11 under par alongside Austrian Florian Praegant (68) and the English duo of Chris Lloyd (69) and Sam Walker (66), all of whom are one shot behind Sweden’s Pelle Edberg (69).
The highlights of the third round at San Domenico Golf will be shown at 10pm on Sky Sports 2.