Miguel Angel Jimenez will take a three-stroke lead over his Ryder Cup teammate Edoardo Molinari into Sunday’s final round of the Omega European Masters – and it would have been four but for a moment of absent-mindedness by the 46-year-old on the 10th fairway on Saturday.
Jimenez momentarily forgot that the lift, clean and place rule was in effect only on the sixth hole, and marked his ball in the fairway. He then called a one-shot penalty on himself when he realized the mistake.
At the time, Jimenez was 4 under par for his round. Two bogeys followed in the next three holes, but he regained his composure to pick up two birdies in the final three holes for a second-round 68 to go with his opening 61 to reach 17 under.
Molinari also scored a 68 on Saturday to occupy second place by himself. If either of them goes on to take the first prize on Sunday, that will make it four wins in a row for members of Colin Montgomerie's Ryder Cup side.
The run of success by 'Monty's Men' started when Germany’s Martin Kaymer lifted his first major at the PGA Championship three weeks ago. That was followed by Sweden’s Peter Hanson capturing the Czech Open and then by Molinari grabbing the Johnnie Walker Championship victory he probably needed to earn a wild card for next month's Ryder Cup match against the Americans at Celtic Manor.
"It's a pity," said Jimenez, thinking back to the incident at the 10th. "I marked it and picked it up like it is preferred lies. Then I thought 'what are you doing?' But I'm still feeling good. It's very difficult to follow up a really low score. Anything you do looks like you are doing nothing."
That did not apply to his early holes on Saturday as the Malaga resident, making his 22nd successive trip to the Alpine resort, birdied four of the first eight holes. But after the blunder on the 10th, he also bogeyed the 12th and 14th before hitting back with birdies on the par-5 15th and the 402-yard 18th, where he sank a 20-footer.
Molinari, hoping to make it back-to-back wins before he takes three weeks off to rest and then prepare for his Ryder Cup debut alongside his brother Francesco, uncharacteristically lost his temper with a photographer on the seventh tee.
"After I hit, come on!" yelled the Italian, who nevertheless hit his tee shot on the driveable par 4 to within six feet of the flag. He missed the eagle putt, but birdied the next two as well to be out in 32 like Jimenez, but his only deviation from par on the way home was a bogey at the short 13th -- his only bogey of the tournament so far.
One shot further back in a tie for third are his 17-year-old Matteo Manassero and England's Steve Webster. A top-five finish might well be enough for Manassero, last year's British Amateur champion, to earn a European Tour card for next season from the six starts he has so far had as a professional.
His 69 kept alive his hopes of becoming the European Tour's youngest-ever champion, while Webster moved into the picture with a superb 64 highlighted by an eagle on the 15th.
That was not the low round of the day, though. After making the cut with nothing to spare, Irishman Peter Lawrie -- beaten in a playoff in the Czech Republic two weeks ago -- burst from 61st to seventh with a 63.