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Fitzpatrick holds narrow lead over McIlroy at Italian Open

Matt Fitzpatrick heads into the final round of the DS Automobiles Italian Open with a one shot lead, but Rory McIlroy and Aaron Rai are breathing down his neck.

US Open champion Fitzpatrick braved the blustery conditions at Marco Simone Golf and Country Club on Saturday and closed his third-round 69 with a birdie to lead alone.

World number two McIlroy and England’s Rai are one stroke behind Fitzpatrick tied for second on nine under after contrasting rounds.

Halfway leader McIlroy mixed three birdies with three bogeys in his 71, which he finished with a five-foot birdie putt on the 18.

Rai, meanwhile, shot two eagles and two birdies in a clear 65 to make a huge move up the standings.

Fitzpatrick, who recovered from a bogey on the front nine with birdies in 10th, 12th and 18th, admitted it would be special to get his hands on the trophy.

He said, “It would mean the world. I love coming to play at the Italian Open.

“I love the country. I love to golf here. The fans are fantastic and winning tomorrow would be a great feeling.

McIlroy, who like Fitzpatrick hopes to represent Europe when the Ryder Cup is staged there next year, knows he faces a tough task on Sunday.

He said: “I think domestic opens are pretty big things in our game. I was very lucky to have won a few of them.

“That would be another great one to add to the list. So big motivation tomorrow to go out and play well.

“I know it will be a difficult day. Fitzpatrick is very solid, it’s the kind of conditions he likes. He’s going to be tough to beat.”

Rai was happy with his day’s work, saying: “I hit a lot of fairways, which is key this week. Hit a lot of good iron shots and make some key putts today.

“Putts around the turn, seven and eight for par, and eagles on ninth and 12th, and that helps keep the lap going. I played really well overall.”

Frenchman Victor Perez, American Kurt Kitayama and Australian Lucas Herbert were tied at three for fourth with eight under.

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