Francesco Molinari holds two shot lead heading into Masters final round


Reigning Open Champion Francesco Molinari leads Tiger Woods and Tony Finau by two shots heading in to the final round of the Masters

Francesco Molinari broke free of a congested leaderboard on a day of low scoring to gain a two shot lead heading in to the final round of The Masters with a bogey-free six-under 66. 

"Obviously very, very happy again," Molinari said after his round. "I thought maybe I played slightly better yesterday, but today, mentally was very good. Made two big putts on 4 and 5 to save pars, and then kind of get going from there.

"Played the back nine probably as good as I've ever played over here, so really pleased about that. And then obviously a good save on 18. So nice to keep another clean scorecard."

As Molinari made five pars in a row to start his day, early clubhouse leader Tony Finau was already well on his way to double figures thanks four birdies and an eagle over his opening eight holes. 

But Molinari, who teed off in the final group of the day after finishing round two as one of five major champions at seven-under, remained patient. 

He made his first birdie after hitting his approach shot to eight feet on the par three sixth, and moved to nine-under-par for the tournament with a two-putt birdie on the par-five eighth. 

Finau quickly reached 11-under, and it wasn't long before the recognisable roars belonging to birdies from Tiger Woods reverberated around the course when he reached the same total. 

Not to be outdone, Molinari suddenly found his stride around Amen Corner. 

The first Italian major champion in history almost holed out for an ace on the 12th, two putted for birdie on 13, and holed two putts under 9 feet for birdie on 14 and 15 to set the marker at 13-under-par. 

"I knew before the round, looking at the pin placements, on the back nine, there were going to be a few opportunities," added Molinari

"You know, it didn't really change my strategy. I was obviously trying to make birdies on the front nine, but even when I didn't at the start, it didn't really change much, because I knew in the back of my mind that the back nine was going to present some good opportunities if you hit the good shots at the right time."

The total moved him two clear of Woods and Finau, and he came less than a foot away from extending that lead further on the 17th. 

A crucial moment came for Molinari on 18 as he failed to find the green in two and was left to hit his third from the fairway bunker, but the World No.7 showed off his short game prowess with an exceptional up and down to ensure the gap was two shots heading in to the final round. 

Because of impending weather the round four tee times have been adjusted and there will be groups of three heading out on the course, meaning Molinari will be in a group with Tony Finau and Tiger Woods, who is searching for his 15th major - and first masters title since 2005. 

Woods is obviously close to the top of the leaderboard and a threat tomorrow, but Molinari still believes there are a lot of players who are in contention - meaning the 14-time major champion isn't the only player he's worrying about. 

"He [Tiger] obviously loves this place, and he's playing great golf," said Molinari. "So I'm aware that it's not going to be easy tomorrow, and you know, like I said, I can just do my best. But it's not like I can only worry about him.

"There's a lot of guys I think in with a chance. We've seen in the past year that a few shots' lead really don't mean too much, and we've seen today that you can shoot 7‑, 8‑under the way the course is playing. I think there's a lot more guys with a chance."

Molinari, who became the first person in over 25 years at Augusta to go more than 41 holes without a bogey, could well add a green jacket to his claret jug on Sunday, and said his game plan is just to stay aggressive and enjoy it.

"My plan for tomorrow is to go out and do the same, but I think there's going to be a few guys trying to mess up with my plan.

"Think the key for me is going to ‑‑ really going to go out tomorrow and just do my thing. Keep staying aggressive like I was trying to be today. Hit the shots. Hit the middle of the clubface as often as I can and make smart decisions, and we'll just take it from there.

"I'll just try to enjoy tomorrow as much as possible, and again, do my best, shot by shot, don't get ahead of myself and see what happens."

First and second round leader Brooks Koepka is the only other player to be in double figures heading in to Sunday on 10-under, with Webb Simpson and Ian Poulter one back on -9. 

Dustin Johnson is among a group of five players that include Xander Schauffele and Louis Oosthuizen on eight-under after shooting a two-under 70, while Rickie Fowler and Adam Scott lie on -7. 

Jordan Spieth shot another encouraging round in the 60s (a three under 69) to get to -3 for the tournament, while Justin Thomas matched that total to get to -6. 

Rory McIlroy, who failed to make a big move on Saturday, heads in to round four 11 shots back.