Rory McIlroy will attempt to become the third youngest player in history to win a European Tour event when he takes a four-stroke lead into the final round of the Omega European Masters in Switzerland after a third round 66.
McIlroy moved to 13 under par 200 and four clear of a chasing pack that includes Switzerland’s Julien Clement, who will try and make history of his own by becoming the first Swiss player to win the title.
McIlroy is the man to catch however and said he had “settled his nerves” with a fantastic round which started with an eagle.
If he takes the title and the €330,330 first prize McIlroy will become the third youngest winner in European Tour history.
South African Dale Hayes was only 18 when he won the 1971 Spanish Open, while Seve Ballesteros was just five days younger than McIlroy at the 1976 Dutch Open - the first of his record 50 Tour victories.
Brett Rumford, joint top at halfway with the Northern Ireland teenager, threw down the gauntlet with an opening 40-foot eagle putt.
But McIlroy had already hit his approach to the par five to three feet, made the putt for a matching three and by adding six birdies went on to score a 66 to the Australian's 73.
That took last year's leading amateur at The Open, who began his first trip to Crans-sur-Sierre with a 63, to 13 under par and continued a remarkable turnaround in his fortunes after missing the last three halfway cuts.
McIlroy, who for his eagle on the 543 yard first needed only a drive and nine iron in the thin air, said: "That settled my nerves.
"It was definitely more satisfying than the 63 given the circumstances. Five under was a very good effort.
"This is my first time in this situation and I'm just really looking forward to tomorrow. I don't want to take my foot off the pedal - I've a four shot lead and I'd like a six shot lead tomorrow.
"Trying to make birdies is the way I play my best. It would be fantastic to win."
His closest challengers now, all on nine under, are England's Robert Dinwiddie, French pair Christian Cevaër and Jean-François Lucquin, Spaniard Alejandro Cañizares, Argentina's Juan Abbate and also Julien Clément, the Swiss player who will carry the hopes of the home nation in their bid to win the title for the first time. Clement is playing on invitation as he does not have a European Tour card and is ranked 779th in the world. Clement will be trying to surpass the joint fourth place of Paulo Quirici in 1989, to date the highest finish by a Swiss player.
Clément said: “The situation here is not easy for me as there are a high expectations and lot of people following me.
“But I hit a great drive on the first hole, followed up with nice second shot. After that I didn’t tremble anymore till the very last hole. It was a very nice day for me.”
The youngster hit consecutive pars from the second to the 11th and admits that consistency is an area of his game which has greatly improved.
“I have learnt to stay patient. Since me technique is steadier this year I am less nervous, more patient and I have more fun,” he added.
“If I play like this, there won’t be any problems at the Qualifying School.
“Tomorrow I will prepare in the same way and follow the same game plan as the other days.”
After a second successive 64 Dinwiddie said: “For the most part I took advantage of the easy holes.
“I started by making an eagle on the first which is a lovely way to start and birdied most of the other easy holes as well.”
Cevaër added: “It may look easy sometimes but this course still has its teeth.
“The greens are good, for a mountain course they are excellent. So I am very happy for the day.”
Cevaër and Lucquin will both be hoping to make it a French double following Gregory Havret’s success in the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles while Abbate will be hoping to follow in the footsteps of Argentine legend Eduardo Romero as a winner at Crans-sur-Sierre Golf Club.
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