VIRGINIA WATER, England (AP) — Luke Donald birdied two of his last three holes for a 1-over 72 and a share of the lead at the BMW PGA Championship with Italian teenager Matteo Manassero in Saturday’s third round.
Donald dropped five strokes heading into the turn before regaining four of them on a flawless back nine. Manassero had two birdies and three bogeys in a volatile front nine before making nine straight pars to also hit a 72 and total 5-under 208.
Top-ranked Lee Westwood and Fabrizio Zanotti of Paraguay, who both shot 69s, are two strokes off the pace. Raphael Jacquelin of France (69), Wales’ Bradley Dredge (69) and Simon Dyson of England (72) are at 211.
The second-ranked Donald needs to outperform Westwood to replace him at the top of golf’s world rankings. Having led his fellow Englishman by eight strokes after the opening round, Donald dropped three behind him at one stage in Saturday’s round before staging his comeback.
“I knew the nature of this course. If I could just find a couple of birdies, get back in the mix, then I thought I might be all right,” Donald said. “So I kind of had to dig pretty deep and find a few birdies out there. I think getting that one birdie is important, just to kind of right the ship.
“It will be disappointing if I don’t win, but I’m going to have to play a lot better than I did today. It wasn’t pretty, but I’m back in with a chance, a good chance.”
Manassero had shared the lead with Donald and Alvaro Quiros entering the round. And despite opening with a bogey himself, before long he was alone on top of the leaderboard following Donald’s double bogeys at Nos. 2 and 6 and Quiros dropping four strokes in four holes up to the turn.
Quiros made his second double bogey of the round at No. 17 to sign for a 76 and a share of eighth place, four strokes back.
It was another difficult day for low scoring on the much-criticized West Course at Wentworth.
Of the 66 players who made the cut, only 13 finished under par on Saturday. A day after Ian Poulter and Paul Casey slammed the Ernie Els-remodeled course as virtually unplayable, this time the pin placements were a point of contention among the players—including Els.
“It is just crazy to put the flag there,” Els said of the placement on No. 15. “They could really have given us better flag positions. I think a lot of guys are going to complain.”
“It was the toughest of the three days we played so far,” Manassero said. “Being on top of the leaderboard with some tricky flags and tough weather, it made it really tough. So I’m happy with the way I played. I saved a few good pars down the stretch and that is going to help me tomorrow.”
Manassero’s precocity has been a defining feature of his burgeoning career.
He became the youngest winner of the British Amateur Championship at 16 in 2009 and was the leading amateur at the British Open that year.
Last year, the Italian broke a 43-year record as the youngest player to make the cut at The Masters. Shortly afterward, he turned professional and became the youngest winner of a European Tour event less than six months later, capturing the Castello Masters Costa Azahar in Valencia, Spain, at 17 years, 188 days to smash the mark set by Danny Lee, who was 18 years, 213 days.
Manassero collected his second win at the Malaysian Open in April at the age of 17 years, 363 days, placing him first and second on the list of youngest European Tour victors.
“I’ve got to know ‘Manny’ a little bit,” Donald said. “He’s obviously a great talent and has a bright future in the game. He’s a very straight hitter and that’s obviously a good recipe around this course, so he will be tough to beat.”