South Africa's Garth Mulroy posted a 6-under 66 on Saturday to claim the third-round lead of the Italian Open.
Mulroy finished 54 holes at 17-under 199 and is one stroke clear of Spain's Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano, who had a 5-under 67 on Saturday at Royal Park I Roveri.
Fernandez-Castano, a third-round co-leader last week at the KLM Open before he tied for fifth, wasn't the only Spaniard high on the leaderboard.
Pablo Larrazabal, also a co-leader last week heading into the final round, shot a 6-under 66 on Saturday. The runner-up to Peter Hanson last week is tied for third with Rafael Cabrera-Bello, who fired a 7-under 65. The pair finished at 15-under 201.
Jose Maria Olazabal has three of his Ryder Cup players in the field this week and two are in a large group tied for fifth. Nicolas Colsaerts (65) and former world No. 1 Martin Kaymer (67) headline a group that includes second-round leader Richard Bland (71), the top Italian Matteo Manassero (65), former Ryder Cupper Phillip Price (66) and Gregory Bourdy (70). The group came in at 13- under par.
Mulroy felt at home at Royal Park I Roveri all week.
"I said on the first day the course reminds me a lot of a South African course," said Mulroy. "The trees, the shape, and the ball goes a little further too."
Mulroy started with a birdie at the first, but dropped a shot at the third. He was 11-under for the tournament, but went on a charge before the turn that vaulted him to the top of the leaderboard.
Mulroy birdied the par-3 sixth and when his 7-foot birdie putt fell at the seventh, he was tied for the lead at 13-under par. He took sole possession of the lead with a birdie at the par-5 eighth, but he fell behind Fernandez- Castano, who drained a 75-footer for eagle at No. 8.
Fernandez-Castano found trouble with two bogeys around the turn and Mulroy birdied the 10th for his fourth birdie in five holes. He was alone in first and got to 16-under par at the 13th. His approach nearly ran into the hole, but he settled for a tap-in birdie.
At 16-under, Mulroy was ahead, but Fernandez-Castano went on a run. He birdied 13 and 14, then halted his momentum with a bogey at 15. Mulroy parred four in a row and Fernandez-Castano birdied 17 to get within one.
The two, who played together on Saturday, had the par-5 18th to go. Mulroy's second bounced through the putting surface, but he chipped down to three feet. Fernandez-Castano birdied the hole, then Mulroy converted his birdie effort to keep a 1-shot lead.
Mulroy will once again have a date with Fernandez-Castano on the first tee.
"I've played quite a bit with Gonzalo. We've been drawn together a few times and have played together a few more at the weekend," said Mulroy. "I enjoy it and I like his caddie too, he's a funny guy. I feel very comfortable out there."
Mulroy has one European Tour victory and that came at last year's Alfred Dunhill Championship in November. Earlier in the 2012 season, he took his first 54-hole lead on tour, but fell to Charl Schwartzel on Sunday at the Joburg Open. He also held the third-round lead in his victory.
Mulroy has two Web.com Tour wins and three in his native South Africa, but 2012 hasn't been too memorable. His best finish on any circuit worldwide this year was a tie for 22nd at The Greenbrier Classic on the PGA Tour.
"I haven't played so well this year," admitted Mulroy. "It would be a big thing to win on mainland Europe, especially with the purse here and the 2-year exemption. I don't win very often so I'd take any win."
NOTES: Olazabal had a 4-over 76 on Saturday and his other Ryder Cupper, Francesco Molinari, who made this event his first tour win in 2006, also shot a 76...Defending champion Robert Rock posted a 3-over 75...All three players are in the bottom five on the leaderboard.