County Cork, Republic of Ireland (SportsNetwork.com) - Mikko Ilonen birdied his final hole Saturday to close out a 2-under 69 and remain on top of the leaderboard at the Irish Open.
Ilonen, who is seeking his fourth career win on the European Tour, finished three rounds on the Deerpark Course at Fota Island Resort at 12-under-par 201.
"I was off here and there today, especially with a couple of drives in the beginning on the par fives," said Ilonen. "All in all I kept it together nicely, I felt good on the course and pretty pleased with how I am placed."
Danny Willet fired a course-record 8-under 63 to vault into second place at 11-under 202, while Graeme McDowell (69) is alone in third at minus-10.
Fabrizio Zanotti (65), Matthew Baldwin (66), Kristoffer Broberg (66) and Romain Wattel (70) share fourth at 9-under. Magnus A. Carlsson (68), Anders Hansen (68), Edoardo Molinari (69), Gareth Maybin (69) and Simon Khan are tied for eighth at 8-under 205.
Ilonen entered the third round with a 2-stroke lead, but Wattel quickly erased that advantage with birdies at the first and second.
Ilonen, however, answered with back-to-back birdies at the second and third to move to 12-under and reclaim his advantage.
Wattel then bogeyed the third to hand Ilonen a 3-shot lead, and as many as six other players would join Wattel in second place before Willett rolled in a 12- foot birdie at the 17th to claim sole possession of the spot at minus-10.
Willett had earlier opened his round with three straight pars before converting a birdie at the fourth. Three holes later, the Englishman recorded a hole-in-one at the seventh and followed that with a birdie at the eighth to jump to 7-under.
"We had a perfect number, 168 yards with an eight iron, but you never expect it to slam-dunk," Willett said about his ace. "That was a bit of a bonus."
After parring the next five holes, Willett birdied the 14th, 16th and 17th to reach 10-under. He then found the green with his second at the par-5 18th and 2-putted for birdie to finish at minus-11 and claim the clubhouse lead.
Ilonen, meanwhile, had parred six straight from the fourth to remain at 12- under before an errant drive at the 10th resulted in a bogey, dropping him into a tie with Willett.
Ilonen later regained the outright lead with a 20-foot birdie putt at the 15th, but gave that shot back at the 17th after failing to get up and down for par from a bunker.
The Finn nearly chipped in for eagle at the 18th as his ball caught the left edge of the hole. He converted his short birdie putt to move back to 12- under and take a 1-stroke lead into the final round.
McDowell had a pair of bogeys and a birdie during an outward 37 to make the turn at 7-under, but closed with birdies at the 11th, 16th and 17th to pull within two of the lead.
"I'll try and give them what they want tomorrow, an Irish winner," said McDowell. 'But there's a lot of names on that leaderboard that will have some issues with that."
NOTES: Ilonen is a former British Amateur champion, while Willett is a former English Amateur winner ... Willett also had an ace this season during the final round of the China Open in April ... McDowell is making his 13th appearance at this event.