Ilonen hits the front in Sweden

6/1/2013 4:22:00 PM
Mikko Ilonen   (Getty Images)
Mikko Ilonen (Getty Images)
Mikko Ilonen has the chance to end his six-year wait for a third European Tour title on Sunday after establishing a two shot lead after three rounds of the Nordea Masters.

The Finn, already a runner-up in China and Morocco this year, carded a seven under par 65 to reach 18 under for the week at Bro Hof Slott.

That was two clear of 2011 winner and home favourite Alex Noren, who was round in 64, with another Swede, Jonas Blixt, tied for third on 14 under with Italian halfway leader Matteo Manassero.

Both Ilonen’s previous European Tour titles came in 2007 – the second in this event – but the 33 year old was refusing to get complacent despite his lead.

“I need to shoot another low score and I can do it, but we’ve got 18 holes to go and lots of other guys are still hunting me,” he said.

With last week’s BMW PGA Championship winner Manassero having a rare off-day, Ilonen turned in 33 to grab a one shot lead, before pulling clear with a spectacular patch of scoring in the middle of the back nine.

He struck his approach to three feet at the 13th set up a birdie, converted another from five feet at the 14th, and then saw a sand wedge spin back in for eagle at the 15th.

“It was a bit of a funny yardage for me,” he said of the eagle. “It was raining and I just tried to squeeze it in there and got lucky with it a bit.”

Noren romped to victory by a whopping seven shots two years ago, and displayed that sort of form again as he holed putts of 80 feet and 40 feet at the fourth and 16th for two of seven birdies, as well as highlighting his long-game talents with a fairway wood to ten feet to set up an eagle on the long ninth.

“I got lucky,” said the 30 year old. “I hit a lot of good putts and I holed a lot of them – I don’t know where it came from, amazing putting.

“I’ve played here a lot; I’m from an hour away, it’s the best course in Sweden and it is a beautiful place.”

The 20 year old Manassero looked to have overcome a sluggish start with a hat-trick of birdies on the back nine, but went from rough to water at the last and double bogeyed to dent his chances of back-to-back victories with a 71.

Blixt produced a bogey-free 66, with a chip-in at the third and approach to three feet at the last among the highlights.