Scotsman Raymond Russell will take a three shot lead into the final round of the Challenge Provincia di Varese after scorching to a four under par 66 on day three.
At 14 under par the 39 year old is ahead of Italian Marco Crespi, with whom he shared the second round lead, while four players – Andrew McArthur, Alessandro Tadini, Peter Uilhein and Daniel Vancsik – are another shot back at ten under.
The majority of Russell’s progress came on the front nine, with birdies at the fourth, sixth, seventh and ninth, and after another at the tenth he had seven pars and a bogey, at the 16th.
“The front nine I played really well and could have shot anything,” said Russell, who has never won on the Challenge Tour but claimed the 1996 Air France Cannes Open on The European Tour.
“The first 11 holes were really solid, and I didn’t miss from inside six feet. Then I didn’t make birdie on the par five 12th which slowed my momentum a bit, and I hit my worst shot of the week off the tee at the 16th and made bogey there. But I’m happy and I’m pleased with the way I’m playing.”
Russell missed almost all of last season with a debilitating virus, having graduated from the Challenge Tour in 2010, and even a victory tomorrow would not make up for a wasted year.
“I only played one European Tour event and two on the Challenge Tour last year,” he said. “It was awful. I’m fully recovered now and playing well again, but I’d worked very hard to get back on The European Tour only for that to wreck the season.
“I’d started playing again in 2007 and worked very hard, and I was playing well at the end of 2010 and had momentum going into 2011. There’s nothing you can do about it, but no, winning tomorrow wouldn’t come close to making up for it.”
Crespi, like Tadini, who grew up playing at Golf Club Varese, would love a win on home soil, following his maiden Challenge Tour victory last month in the Telenet Trophy.
“It would be great to win, but I will have to play very well to catch Raymond,” said the 33 year old, who signed for a 69. “I bogeyed the first and double-bogeyed the sixth, but I also had four birdies to keep me up there.
“Fortunately the back nine was a lot calmer and I had nine straight pars. I played very well from tee to green. I enjoyed the day and can’t wait for tomorrow. Being in contention for a tournament is always a good feeling, but it’s extra special here in Italy, where I have a lot of people supporting me.”