Reigning Race to Dubai Champion Francesco Molinari will take a two-shot lead into the final round at The Masters Tournament, where he will go up against Tiger Woods once again as the battle for the Green Jacket intensifies at Augusta National Golf Club.
The Italian’s bogey-free round of 66 took him to 13 under par, ahead of American European Tour member Tony Finau – whose eight under par 64 was the joint lowest round of the day – and four-time Masters winner Woods, who Molinari played alongside as he triumphed in The Open Championship at Carnoustie Golf Links last summer.
The trio are grouped together for what is set up to be an enthralling – but early – final day, with the players going off two tees in three balls, and play starting at 7.30 am in a bid to beat forecasted afternoon storms.
Molinari will join an illustrious group if he triumphs in the first Major of the season, as only four reigning Open champions have won The Masters – Arnold Palmer (1962), Seve Ballesteros (1980), Tom Watson (1981) and Woods (2001).
But the 36-year-old will have to stay ahead of a packed leaderboard on Sunday, with three-time Major winner Brooks Koepka just three shots off the lead and one behind Finau and Woods at ten under par, and England’s Ian Poulter one shot further back alongside 2012 U.S. Open Champion Webb Simpson.
Masters debutant Justin Harding and fellow South African and 2010 Open Champion Louis Oosthuizen are amongst a group of five players at eight under par.
“Very, very happy again. I thought maybe I played slightly better yesterday, but today, mentally was very good. Made two big putts on four and five to save pars, and then kind of got going from there.
“I played the back nine probably as good as I’ve ever played over here, so really pleased about that. And then a good save on 18, so nice to keep another clean scorecard.
“My plan for tomorrow is to go out and do the same, but I think there’s going to be a few guys trying to mess up with my plan.
“The favorite is probably the golf course out there waiting for us. We are all very close. Obviously, it’s nice to be a little bit ahead, but you might just need one hole to change. You never know how it’s going to go, especially around a course like here.”
“I’m driving the ball nicely. On this golf course, I can attack if I’m hitting my driver well, and I have been thus far. Going into today, I felt calm and comfortable, and I think my score showed that.
“I got off to a nice start. I was happy to make birdie on one. I hit two great shots and a putt that just barely lipped in on one and was kind of off to the races there. A couple of tap‑ins on two and three and I was just on my way, I kind of got in that zone.
“I looked up at the leaderboard, and I knew I just needed to keep making birdies, because I knew they were going to have a lot of opportunities, the guys that were playing well. I was happy to post the number I did, but more than anything, just keep my foot on the gas pedal and not let off. I’m well in contention, and I’m happy about that.”
“I just did everything. I drove it well and hit my irons well. I made some putts. I just let the round kind of build. And I don’t need to go after every single flag. Just put the ball in the correct spots so I can have gettable looks and gettable putts.
“I was able to do that and I tried to keep the ball below the hole as best as I possibly could. I made sure that I had those type of looks, and if I gave myself those looks the way that I’m hitting my lines I’m going to be all right.
“Usually the reward is for playing hard and doing all the things correctly is you get a nice little sleep in come Sunday, but that’s not going to be the case. We’ve got to get up early and get after it.”
“I can only do what I can do at this point. I need to make some birdies tomorrow. The greens are soft, this course is receptive. We’re all out early tomorrow, so we’re all on the golf course and we’re going to know what is happening. If someone is going low we’re going to see it. Just got to go as low as you can go and see what happens.
“I birdied 13, 15 and obviously the last. I had a couple of other opportunities, which I didn’t take. Didn’t up and down 11, which was frustrating really going in with seven iron. Should have hit it in the middle of the green, didn’t, pushed it a little bit. Paid the price for the only mistake of the day.
“Tee to green I’m playing well. Just need to hole a couple more putts and hopefully I’ll have a chance.”