Italian teenager Matteo Manassero is on the brink of his first professional victory after firing a stunning eight under par 64 in the third round of the Rolex Trophy.
The 17 year old, who joined the paid ranks in May, will take a commanding lead into the final round, three shots ahead of Frenchman Alex Kaleka, who shot 67, and four in front of Chile’s Mark Tullo, who impressed with a 66.
Manassero showed why he has become one of golf’s hottest properties in the last year, carding nine birdies to reach 19 under for the tournament. Having teed off from the tenth and reached the turn five under, he picked up further shots at the first, third and fifth.
“It’s very easy to enjoy it when you’re playing like this,” said Manassero, who burst onto the scene when he won the Silver Medal as the highest-placed amateur in The 2009 Open Championship and subsequently became the youngest player in history to make the cut at the Masters Tournament.
“It feels very good. I’m leading and it’s been a great round for me today. Everything I’ve tried to do, I’ve done. I made one three-putt but otherwise it’s a great score.
“I won’t change how I play tomorrow. You still have to play really well on this course and make many chances for birdie and hole as many putts as you can. You always have to try to extend the lead as much as you can.”
Manassero’s total of 197 is the lowest first 54 holes of the season, and Kaleka knows he will have to be at his best to overhaul his rival.
“I just have to hope I play as well again tomorrow and perhaps Matteo will have a bad day – you never know,” said Kaleka, who had five birdies and an eagle. “I won’t feel any pressure, I will just stick to my game and try and do my best.
“I hit the ball very well again today. The bogey at the 16th was disappointing because I made a good putt but it hit a footprint and went off line. There are lots of footprints on the greens but that’s what happens when you play late in the afternoon.”
Tullo paid credit to Manassero, saying: “Matteo is playing fantastically so hats off to him. If you play your best and still lose to someone else, you have to applaud them. But I’m going to try and play well again tomorrow and we’ll see what happens. I am playing really well and enjoying it this week.”
First round co-leader Lee Slattery posted a seven under par 65 to reach 13 under, while Scotsman George Murray’s 67 took him to 12 under.
Englishman Slattery, who has had a mixed week so far with two rounds of 65 and a second round of 73, said: “It’s been like a see-saw these last three days. I didn’t play badly yesterday but just didn’t score well. Maybe I had too much sleep the night before. I didn’t sleep well last night and shoot 65 again – maybe that’s the secret!”
Murray, chasing his second Challenge Tour win following his victory in the Scottish Hydro Challenge, said: “That was the best I’ve played all week. I’ve struggled a bit the last two days. I three-putted on the 18th for a bogey which was annoying, but it’s just one of those things.
“Manassero is absolutely flying out there today and in control now. It’s his to lose.”