England’s Lee Slattery holds a one-shot lead heading into the final round of the Italian Open after carding a best-of-the-week 62 on day three at GardagOLF Country Club.
The 39-year-old from Southport fired eight birdies and an eagle from 10 feet on the seventh in his nine-under-par round.
A solitary bogey after a miscued tee shot on the 12th leaves Slattery 16 under for the week, one ahead of home favourite and last week’s BMW PGA Championship winner Francesco Molinari and Denmark’s Thorbjorn Olesen.
Halfway leader Martin Kaymer and England’s Danny Willett – both major champions but short of form of late – are a shot further back after rounds of 68 and 67 respectively.
Slattery made birdies at the fourth and sixth before taking advantage of an excellent approach to the seventh.
The two-time European Tour winner made another gain at the 10th and, after his blemish on the 12th where he was fortunate his tee shot stopped just short of the water, bounced back with a hat-trick of gains before converting from 12 feet at the last.
“It was very relaxing, playing with two good guys, Laurie Canter and Richard Sterne. (I) know them both quite well, and we just enjoyed it,” Slattery said.
“When you get in that zone, you just keep making birdies. It’s a great feeling.
“I’ll just try and relax and just enjoy it tomorrow.”
Olesen made seven birdies before dropping his only shot of the day on the 16th after three-putting for a round of 65, while Molinari – twice a winner of his national open – carded one bogey against six birdies, including a lengthy effort on the 18th which delighted the locals in Brescia.
With four months to go until the Ryder Cup team is named, Jim Furyk and his vice-captains will have plenty of selection headaches as they bid to name a strong team of 12 to face Team Europe in Paris on September 28.
With eight players selected from points gained at every PGA Tour event, WGC and major, the remaining four slots will be down to the team management.
Here, we take a look at our 12 as it stands.
Current points: 6,728.501
The Masters champion would have been part of the team regardless of his ranking, given his history in high pressure matches. He is unbeaten in singles (2-0-0) and fourballs (3-1-0) during his two Ryder Cup appearances. The 27-year-old has secured five top-10 finishes in his last six events and has the confidence and potential to be a future top-five player.
Current points: 6,352.273
The World No1 may not be the same household name as Justin Spieth and Dustin Johnson, but has proven to be equally as influential. It’s hard to imagine the 25-year-old has yet to play in the Ryder Cup, despite a career to date in which he has won eight PGA Tour titles, the FedEX Championship and a major. With 12 top-25 finishes and five top-10 finishes this season, the Kentucky native will be a serious addition to Furyk’s side in September.
Current points: 5,161.597
Held the number one ranking for 15 months up until his T17 finish at The Players earlier this month. At 33, Johnson has the most complete game in the sport and will be a pivotal figure when America set out to retain their Ryder Cup title in France. The Florida resident has 11 top-20 finishes in his last 12 tournaments, including a win and two second place finishes.
Current points: 4,795.306
Without a doubt, the most talented player in golf. Results may have not gone his way over the past 12 months but the 24-year-old is still a three-time major winner. Has proven to be a force with Reed in their last two Ryder Cup appearances and if he can improve his putting – his biggest strength in previous years – then expect him to add to his 11 career Tour wins before September’s showpiece. Will be America’s leading light at Le Golf National.
Current points: 4,479.348
Koepka may not have won the Fort Invitational last weekend, but the 28-year-old helped himself into fifth place in the Ryder Cup rankings after a solid second place finish. The Florida man was playing the best golf of his career this time 12 months ago and went on to clinch a first major at the US Open. Injuries may have restricted his progress since January, but he is slowly getting back to his competitive best. If he can start holing bunker shots like his birdie on the par-4 6th last Sunday, then he will be back on top of the leaderboards again soon.
Current points: 4,102.303
The 39-year-old famously missed out on the 2016 edition despite holding a top-8 raking at the moment. Stepping in as a vice-captain, the Florida man used his presence to help the Americans to a first title since 2008. But two tournament wins this year – along with fifth at the Masters – has seen Watson return to his immaculate best and he now looks a dead certainty to earn his fourth Ryder Cup appearance.
Current points: 3,932.347
A career best second at the Masters earlier this year will have boosted the confidence of Fowler, who looks set to make the Ryder Cup team for a fourth time – at just 29. Has shown a penchant for heating up on the grand stage and will be bidding to better his 2-4-5 record in previous Ryder Cups. At present, his form looks mixed, with nine top-25s over his last 13 starts – including three missed cuts.
Current points: 3,673.247
The ultimate warrior. Mickelson has played in a record 11 consecutive Ryder Cups for America and looks like a lock to play for a 12th time. The five-time major winner has never had to rely on a captain’s pick due to his consistency to finish inside the top eight each year. In March, the 47-year-old beat Justin Thomas in a playoff to win the 43rd tournament of his career at the WGC-Mexico Championship. His leadership and composure will be unrivaled when Furyk and Co travel to Europe later this year.
Current points: 3,622.307
The Players Championship winner has had four top-10s this season. His win at Sawgrass was perhaps his finest as he jumped from 29 to nine in the Ryder Cup rankings. It looks likely he will make his third appearance for America.
Current points: 3,247.928
The 39-year-old has played in four Ryder Cups and finished in a season-best eighth place at the Houston Open in April. A reliable performer, expect the world No23 to step up as the summer progresses.
Current points: 2,910.265
Finished third at the Tournament of Champions and would bring buckets of determination to the table if selected as a wildcard. The 31-year-old has yet to play in the Ryder Cup but is composed in high pressure situations, making 17 of the last 19 cuts.
Current points: 2,378.567
Took a massive stride towards his first Ryder Cup appearance with a dominant victory at AT&T Byron Nelson in Dallas. Could the 21-year-old be the next great under-30 USA member, following in the footsteps of Spieth, Fowler, Reed, Thomas and Koepka?
With four months to go until the Ryder Cup team is named, Thomas Bjorn and his vice-captains will have plenty of selection headaches as they bid to name a strong team of 12 to face a dominant American side in Paris on September 28.
With eight players selected between European and World Points qualification systems, the remaining four slots will be down to the team management.
Here, we take a look at our 12 as it stands.
European Points: 3,096,447.8
Hugely impressive this season, with two third place finishes and one top-10. The Englishman currently tops the European points ahead of Rose, and could have been further ahead but for missing the cut three times in his last four tournaments. One of the most consistent on the tour, the 25-year-old has a class short game and the accurate ball striking ability to trouble the Americans on European soil.
European Points: 2,961,330.2
World Points: 270.14
The Englishman has the world No1 spot in his sights after his victory at the Fort Worth Invitational last week. The 37-year-old has been a crucial part of the Ryder Cup team for a decade now since making his debut in Valhalla in 2008. His partnership with Henrik Stenson took a hit in 2014, but their defeats were against the unstoppable Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed duo. Expect him to shine this year.
European Points: 2,155,802
World Points: 216.99
The Northern Irishman will be Europe’s leading figure when they depart for the French capital later this year. He looks fit and fresh since recovering from the rib injury that curtailed his 2017 season. Victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and second at the BMW PGA Championship last week proves his form is back close to his best. Will be a central player for Thomas Bjorn’s side in September.
European Points: 2,123,431
World Points: 152.61
After winning the BMW PGA Championship, the Italian moved into position to qualify for the Ryder Cup. He is now fourth in the European Points list, ahead of Jon Rahm and Ross Fisher, with the top four qualifying automatically later this season. The 35-year-old represented Europe in the successful 2010 and 2012 campaigns, famously playing Tiger Woods to a draw at Medinah six years ago.
European Points: 2,088,832.9
World Points: 248.36
Now ranked inside the world’s top four, the Spaniard has been a colossus since his breakthrough season in 2017. Currently occupies the qualifying places in the World Tour and is an absolute lock for his Ryder Cup debut. With stunning wins at the DP World Tour Championship, CareerBuilder Challenge and Spanish Open, the 23-year-old has the chance to be a key figure at Le Golf National later this summer.
European Points: 1,481,990.1
World Points: 164.04
The reigning European No1 collected more valuable ranking points after finishing fourth and seventh at the Honda Classic and The Players’ Championship in recent weeks. Has shown an ability to compete at the highest level, finishing fourth at the US Open, and needs to improve over the coming weeks to have any hope of making a debut.
European Points: 1,497,194
World Points: 155.71
The Swede may have missed out on the 2016 edition, but has shown over the last 12 months that he can shine against the best in the world. Clinched a second place finish at Farmer Insurance Open and third-place finishes at the Honda Classic, WGC Match Play and BMW PGA Championship to prove his solid all-round game and mental strength, both of which will make him an excellent partner when Europe go to battle later this year. The 35-year-old currently holds the eighth and final qualifying spot.
European Points: 1,671,446
World Points: 119.46
Aside from Rahm, the Sheffield native is the most promising player on the European Tour at the moment. The 23-year-old continues to make progress and possesses an accurate game ideal for the layout of the tight Parisian course. Although he is ranked 7th in the European Tour and ninth in the World Points, expect Fitzpatrick to close the year with a flourish before team selection in August.
Beat Jordan Spieth in the final day singles at Hazeltine having lost three of his previous four matches. Solid throughout 2017, but his form has dipped in recent months and is still winless this year. Although ranked outside the qualification places, it is certain Bjorn would use one of his wildcard picks to select the Gothenburg native. Imagine the prospect of Stenson and Noren lining up on the first at Le Golf national together?
The Englishman has struggled with a back injury in recent weeks but will be one of the hopefuls to secure a wildcard berth. At 40, his last appearance in the Ryder Cup was 10 years ago in 2008 but is a known inspirational presence on the course. His poor form has seen him slip out of the qualification places, but he has proven to be a trusted lieutenant to previous captains. Could get selected ahead of Sergio Garcia.
He knows how to perform under pressure and has enjoyed a bright start to the new season, with a win at the Houston Open and top six finishes at the Dubai Desert Classic and WGC Match Play. The Hertfordshire native currently holds a qualification spot, but if his game drops, it is likely that Bjorn will call on the four-time Ryder Cup winner to inspire his side to success against a dominant American team.
Boosted his chances of a debut in his home country after winning the Trophee Hassan II last month. The 27-year-old also secured fourth place finishes at the Dubai Desert Classic and Oman Open. Needs to stay consistent if he has any hope of closing the points gap. Has proven he can excel on the grand stage, and should warrant a pick from the captain if he fails to qualify.