VIRGINIA WATER, England (AP) — Francesco Laporta of Italy shot 3-under 69 to take a one-stroke lead after three rounds of the BMW PGA Championship on Saturday as Bernd Wiesberger moved closer to sealing a place in Europe's Ryder Cup team.
Nineteen players were within five shots of the 264th-ranked Laporta, who was 14 under overall, heading into the final round of the flagship event on the European Tour. The closest was English player Laurie Canter, who shot 70 and was a stroke behind in second place outright.
Ryder Cup qualification is the major subplot of this week's tournament at the tour headquarters at Wentworth, which marks the final chance for players to earn points to gain an automatic place in the European team.
Wiesberger looks almost sure of getting in via the European points list after shooting a second straight round of 67 to climb to a tie for seventh place on 11 under. The Austrian golfer, who has never played in the Ryder Cup, needs to finish only in the top 50 to jump above Rory McIlroy on the list. McIlroy would still be assured of making the team via the world points list.
Alongside Wiesberger on 11 under was Shane Lowry, also looking to be a Ryder Cup debutant.
Lowry, who birdied the par-5 last — for the third time this week — to complete a round of 69, was in a close race with Lee Westwood and potentially Matt Fitzpatrick for the final places on the European points list.
As it stood, Westwood — whose 71 left him on 5 under overall — was just above Lowry as the final qualifier on that list.
“I feel like I had a great chance to make the (Ryder Cup) team in 2016 and threw that away,” Lowry said. "Missed a few cuts in a row and felt like I was there after the U.S. Open, but then shied away from it a little bit.
“Whereas the last few months, I've fought as hard as I could and went out every day and tried my best and thankfully it’s been good. Who knows whether it will be good enough?”
As an indication of how close it was, Lowry was provisionally in the Ryder Cup team when he played his first 14 holes in 3 under par, out of it when he bogeyed the 15th, and then back in it with a birdie on the 18th.
But as more players finished and pushed Lowry into a three-way tie for seventh, Westwood edged back in front of Lowry by just 2.34 points.
Justin Rose shot 72 and will need to come from five strokes back to get the win he requires to move into the automatic qualification spots.
Otherwise, he is relying on getting one of the three captain's picks from Padraig Harrington on Sunday night. Harrington has already indicated that Ian Poulter, who missed the cut this week, and Sergio Garcia are favored to get two of the captain's picks.
Among those two shots off the lead and in with a great chance of winning were former FedEx Cup winner Billy Horschel (69), who didn't make the U.S. Ryder Cup team, and former Masters champion Adam Scott (70).
Upstaging them all was Laporta, who is bidding to win his first European Tour title a week after securing his card for next season.
“It will be tough, but I like to be under pressure,” Laporta said. “This is what we play for.”
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