Darren Clarke was just holding off a charging Edoardo Molinari as the Barclays Scottish Open third round reached its midway point at Loch Lomond today.
Three ahead overnight, the 41-year-old Ulsterman stretched that to four with a 15-foot birdie putt on the opening green.
But Molinari, the elder of the two Italian brothers who are both contending for the £500,000 first prize and are Ryder Cup contenders this year, came back at him in superb fashion.
After a 40-foot birdie putt at the second the 29-year-old struck a fairway wood to six feet on the next and eagled.
Clarke birdied the hole, but when he bogeyed two holes later – only his second dropped shot of the week – his advantage was down to one.
Both birdied the long sixth and they were level when Molinari made a 30-footer at the seventh and Clarke missed from six.
The tee on the ninth had been moved forward to make the par four driveable, but Molinari, needing a birdie to turn in a blistering 30, could not match his playing partner’s birdie and so Clarke, out in 33, started for home one in front at 13 under par.
Molinari’s brother and World Cup winning partner Francesco, who has a golden opportunity to move from ninth to fifth in the Ryder Cup standings this weekend, was up into third place on eight under when he birdied the short eighth and sank a 20-foot putt for an eagle two at the next.
One stroke further back was Swede Peter Hedblom and in fifth spot was Shane Lowry, the 23-year-old who won last year’s Irish Open as an amateur.
Clarke’s compatriot Graeme McDowell, in his first European Tour event since winning the US Open, re-ignited hopes of a third successive victory when he covered his first 13 holes in five under to stand five under.
But then came bogeys on the 14th and 16th.