Rory McIlroy’s challenge for the BMW PGA Championship faltered as the four-times major champion suffered an off-day and was caught by charging Italian Francesco Molinari on Saturday.
The Northern Irishman began his third round three shots clear of the field on 12-under but found the Wentworth course far less obliging and dropped three shots in his opening six holes before dragging his round back together.
McIlroy, who double bogeyed the sixth hole, finished with birdies on 17 and 18 for a one-under 71 to share the lead with Molinari on 13-under going into the Sunday’s final round.
Molinari, 35, began the day five shots behind the 29-year-old McIlroy but produced a majestic six-under 66.
After parring the first seven holes, Molinari produced a superb approach to the eighth for a tap-in birdie and followed that with another birdie on the ninth.
The putts continued to drop on the inward nine as he picked up four more shots, including a chip-in from the fringe on the par-three 14th, to move to the top of the leaderboard.
McIlroy was not done though and his fighting finish sets up what should be an intriguing final day at the European Tour’s flagship tournament.
Molinari said patience had been the key on a day of tricky pin positions and zippy greens.
“It was a tough day and nice to see a clean scorecard on a day like that,” he said. “I missed a few short puts at the beginning but stayed patient and the birdies at eight and nine kick-started me for the back nine.”
Twenty-one-year-old Englishman Sam Horsfield, playing with McIlroy in the final group, struggled initially but also finished with two birdies to join a group of players on nine-under, including Swedish defending champion Alex Noren.