By Steve Douglas ,AP
INVERNESS, Scotland — Francesco Molinari held off a barrage of challengers at the Scottish Open by shooting a 5-under 67 to take a one-stroke lead into Sunday’s final round.
The Italian, who held the overnight lead with Alexander Noren, remained consistent in changing weather around the Castle Stuart links on Saturday to stay in front on 17 under.
On a third-straight low-scoring day, Anders Hansen is Molinari’s closest challenger after shooting a 65. Hansen upstaged his top-ranked playing partner Luke Donald (68) in the process, while Phil Mickelson also signed for a 65 to lie tied for fifth with three other players on 14 under.
Noren was among that quartet — the Swede had been keeping pace with Molinari until making a triple-bogey 8 on No. 12, after losing his ball in bushes off the tee, and finished with a 70.
Molinari shot a tournament record-equaling 62 in the first round and will have either shared the lead or held it on his own all four days.
Soren Kjeldsen and Marc Warren are two strokes behind Molinari after shooting 8-under 64s — the lowest rounds of the day along with Martin Laird.
Scottish players Warren, Laird and Peter Whiteford (66) are all in the top eight, boosting hopes of a first home winner of the event since Colin Montgomerie in 1999.
With Donald failing to build on a bright start in glorious lunchtime conditions, when the rain stayed off and the flags were limp, Mickelson could now be Molinari’s biggest danger.
The American proved he is back to something near his best form — less than a week before the start of the British Open — by building on a second-round 64 with another blitz of eight birdies. Six of those came on the back nine and he finished just as the day’s only burst of heavy rain came.
Mickelson believes the wind will need to pick up if Molinari is going to be stopped on Sunday.
“We’ll see more bogeys and we’ll see the golf course play the way it’s capable of playing,” said the triple Masters champion, who was only entered for the event on Sunday after getting a late invitation. “I think for us to catch the leaders, we need a little bit of weather.”
Mickelson played 12 holes at a local club on Friday evening to get some more practice in ahead of this weekend and also with the British Open at Royal Lytham & St. Annes in mind.
Of the 77 players to make the cut, only 12 failed to shoot par or better on Saturday. Two of that dozen came in the next-to-last pairing, with Ricardo Gonzalez (75) and Matteo Manassero (73) falling off the pace after being well-placed on Friday.