GUIDONIA MONTECELIO, Italy (AP) — Even the wind couldn’t thwart U.S. Open champion Matt Fitzpatrick at the Italian Open.
Fitzpatrick will head into the final round in the lead and aiming to go one better than three years ago after coping with challenging conditions on Saturday to post an impressive 2-under 69 and edge clear of Rory McIlroy and Aaron Rai.
Fitzpatrick, who claimed his first major title in June at Brookline, is playing the Italian Open for the seventh time. He finished second in 2019.
“It would mean the world (to win),” Fitzpatrick said. “I love coming to play the Italian Open … I love the country. I love playing golf here. The fans are fantastic and to win tomorrow, yeah, would be a great feeling.”
He takes a one-shot lead into the final round at Marco Simone club outside Rome after three birdies in the back nine saw him move to 10-under 203.
“We had the wind switch on nine and the golf course just completely changed,” Fitzpatrick said. “It was a wind we had not played in all week.
“To me, I just felt like if I could just hang on and just avoid bogeys, I would put myself in good position. Managed to pick up a few (birdies) on the back nine. Delighted to be going into tomorrow with the lead.”
Halfway leader McIlroy started the day a shot ahead of Ryder Cup teammate Fitzpatrick but struggled in the wind and hit three bogeys. However, he salvaged his round — and possibly his tournament — by also ending with a birdie, his third of the day.
“I struggled with the putter all day but I think, especially when the wind got up, I struggled just to sort of commit to reads, and do I play the wind, do I not play the wind,” McIlroy said.
“Sort of thankfully I’m still in it. Still only one shot back. I think I’ll be in the final group tomorrow. So that was a big putt on 18 to hole so I can keep an eye on Fitz and what he’s doing.”
McIlroy is playing in Italy for the first time as a pro specifically to gain familiarity with the course which will stage the Ryder Cup next year.
“National opens are pretty important things in our game,” McIlroy said. “I’ve been quite fortunate that I’ve won a few of them. This would be another great one to add to the list.”
Meanwhile, two eagles helped Rai shoot up the leaderboard with a flawless 65. He started the round six shots off the lead.
American golfer Kurt Kitayama (67), France’s Victor Perez (69) and Australian Lucas Herbert (68) were in a three-way tie for fourth on 8 under.
There was more misery for Europe captain Luke Donald, however.
Donald, who hit the wrong ball during his round the previous day, made seven bogeys to post a 5-over 76 and leave him 10 shots off the lead.
Next year, Marco Simone will become the third venue in continental Europe to host the Ryder Cup after Valderrama in Spain (1997) and Le Golf National in France (2018).
More AP golf: https://apnews.com/hub/golf and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports