Defending champion Matt Fitzpatrick fired a brilliant 63 to take a two-shot lead into the final round of the Omega European Masters in Switzerland.
The Englishman was one of the contenders left disappointed when European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn selected his wild cards on Wednesday but he has shown no ill effects in Crans-Montana, charging to 14 under with a bogey-free effort yesterday.
Frenchman Mike Lorenzo-Vera was his nearest challenger, with England’s Daniel Brooks one of five players in a group four shots off the lead.
Stephen Gallacher, the leading Scot in Switzerland, slipped down the leaderboard and will need to do something special if he’s to drag himself into the mix today.
Gallacher, pictured inset, started the day just three shots off the pace following a decent second-round 66 but he shot a level-par 70 yesterday – that included three birdies and three bogeys – and now finds himself eight shots adrift of Fitzpatrick on six under.
A victory for Fitzpatrick this afternoon would see him become the first man to successfully defend the title since the great Seve Ballesteros in 1978 and his record at Crans-sur-Sierre is formidable, with eight scores of 65 or lower in 17 rounds.
The 24-year-old sandwiched a long putt on the fifth with smart approaches into the second and sixth and when he holed a chip for eagle on the short par-four seventh, he led by three.
A run of seven pars allowed Lorenzo-Vera to reel him in but Fitzpatrick got up and down from over the back of the par-five 15th and then rolled home a 40-foot putt on the last to re-establish a cushion.
“It was really, really good,” said Fitzpatrick afterwards. “I would say that everything went well today. I drove it really solid and made some great up-and-downs which has been a bit of a struggle this season to keep the round going. There were some real key ones today and that was the difference. It kept the momentum and I managed to kick on.
“He [Ballesteros] is a good man to emulate, so hopefully things go to plan tomorrow.”
Dane Lucas Bjerregaard, American Doug Ghim, South African Haydn Porteous and China’s Wu Ashun, who fired a second straight 65, were alongside Brooks at ten under. Overnight leader Hideto Tanihara of Japan is six shots behind Fitzpatrick after a one-over 71, on a sun-filled day when only two players in the top 20 on the leaderboard failed to break par.
For Lorenzo-Vera, a 64 was his lowest round since the Rocco Forte Sicilian Open, where he lost a play-off to Joakim Lagergren and struggled to hold back the tears in his post-round interview.
A win in the Swiss Alps would be emotional for more reason than one after Lorenzo-Vera’s father passed away while his son was playing a previous edition of this event. “It might be the most important tournament for me,” explained the 33-year-old. “I lost my dad here, so I want it.”