Lee Slattery (Getty Images)
Lee Slattery holds a two shot lead going into the final round of the Bankia Madrid Masters after the Englishman produced a solid third round at El Encin Golf Hotel.
One stroke ahead at the halfway stage, Slattery was passed by home favourite Eduardo De La Riva and Italians Francesco Molinari and Lorenzo Gagli on the front nine, but kept calm to record a bogey free 69.
That took him to 14 under for the week, and with his nearest challengers unable to maintain blemish-free cards, allowed the Challenge Tour graduate to double his advantage.
A third birdie of the week at the sixth got Slattery up and running as he turned in 35.
The 29 year old De La Riva led at that stage, having followed two opening birdies with a holed approach from 188 yards at the ninth for eagle.
But in only his second European Tour start of the season the former amateur star – who has not had a top ten finish on The European Tour – took 39 on the way in en route to 72 that left him seventh on ten under par.
Slattery holed from 20 feet on the 13th and another birdie two holes later completed his scoring.
“I just played really steady,” he said. “I didn’t make too many mistakes. I probably could have holed a few more putts, I left a few out there. At the turn I just felt a little bit more relaxed and played really nicely coming in.”
Gagli and Australian Brett Rumford share second on 12 under, with Ryder Cup star Francesco Molinari, Swede Oscar Floren and Argentine veteran Cesar Monasterio a shot further back.
The 25 year old Gagli is enjoying his best European Tour season to date, with four top-five finishes propelling him to 49th on The Race to Dubai.
He made a blistering start, with three birdies and a chip-in eagle at the fourth in his first six holes.
But there were three bogeys and only two further birdies from then on as he signed for a 69.
And Gagli revealed his improvement is in part down to Europe’s Ryder Cup Captain.
“A couple of weeks before the Spanish Open I spent five days with José María Olazábal at San Domenico,” he said.
“He is a very good and generous person and a great player. I learnt a lot that week because I saw in him the love of the game.
“He doesn’t play golf for the money, he plays because he loves golf. After playing we couldn’t get him to leave the course, he would be chipping with his sand wedge until dark. In the evenings he told us a lot of stories about playing in The Ryder Cup with Seve.”
Rumford had only one dropped shot in his 68, with five birdies highlighted by an approach to four feet at the seventh.
“It was a good day – I was playing great from tee to green,” said Rumford.
“I just wasn’t quite reading the lines properly and my pace was a little bit out.
“It’s nice to be able to get back to doing what I need to do to play well.”
Defending champion and World Number One Luke Donald holed out from a bunker on the fifth, but a two under 70 left him tied for tenth on eight under and with plenty to do to try and catch his compatriot Slattery.
At 136th on The Race to Dubai Slattery has the opportunity to end any concerns about his European Tour future, but he is determined to put that to the back of his mind for the time being.
“It’s all about not thinking about the big picture,” he added. “It’s very hard to do – if you say don’t think about a pink elephant you automatically think of that but there are techniques you can use to switch off.
“This is why we play the game. It doesn’t get much better than this where you can play in front of fans in great weather on great courses.”