Matt Fitzpatrick holds two-shot lead after third day at Crans-sur-Sierre

By Keith Jackson

Matt Fitzpatrick is in position to become the first player to defend the Omega European Masters since Seve Ballesteros 40 years ago as he opened up a two-shot lead after 54 holes.

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Fitzpatrick continued to shrug off his disappointment at missing out on a Ryder Cup place, following up Friday's 64 with a superb seven-under 63 to hit the front on 14 under par.

The 24-year-old, who is without a win since lifting his fourth European Tour title at Crans-sur-Sierre last September, holed a number of long-range putts in a card containing an eagle, five birdies and no blemishes.

Image: Matt Fitzpatrick holds a two-shot lead heading into the final round

After making a bright start with a birdie at the second, Fitzpatrick got a lengthy putt to drop for an unlikely gain at the fifth before he converted a good approach to the next.

His sparkling run gained further momentum at the driveable par-four seventh, where he chipped in for a thrilling eagle to claim sole possession of the lead as he cantered to the turn in 30.

Fitzpatrick then had to settle for a run of seven straight pars as he failed to take advantage of either the par-five ninth and 14th holes, but with Mike Lorenzo-Vera suddenly racing into contention, the Englishman made a good four at the long 15th and calmly rolled in a 40-foot putt for a closing birdie.

Image: Fitzpatrick is aiming to become the first man to defend the title since Seven Ballesteros in 1978

"It was really, really good, and I would say that everything went well today," said Fitzpatrick, who was not among Thomas Bjorn's four wildcard picks for the Ryder Cup later this month when they were unveiled on Wednesday.

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"I drove it really solid and made some great up-and-downs which has been a bit of a struggle this season to keep the round going. There were some real key ones today and that was the difference. It kept the momentum and I managed to kick on.

"The last three holes are quite tough I think where the flags are today and through pars you aren't really losing any ground, and then to finish with a long putt there was an absolute bonus.

Image: Fitzpatrick made five birdies and chipped in for eagle at the seventh

"Seve Ballesteros is a good man to emulate, so hopefully things go to plan tomorrow. You still want to put the pressure on and make birdies. You are going to have to because someone is going to come up from somewhere, there is no doubt because you can get it going, but hopefully stick to my game plan and make plenty of birdies."

Fitzpatrick's grandstand finish ensured he ended the day two clear of Lorenzo-Vera, who hit back from an early mistake at the second with seven birdies, including a remarkable putt from long distance at the 13th, and his birdie from four feet at 17 got the Frenchman into a tie for the lead until Fitzpatrick hit back at 15 and 18.

The Frenchman is alone in second place and two clear of a five-way share of third which includes England's Daniel Brooks, who carded his seventh birdie of the round at the last to return a 64.

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Brooks enters the final round on 10 under along with Lucas Bjerregaard, Doug Ghim, Haydn Porteous and Wu Ashun, while last season's Asian Tour No 1 Gavin Green reeled off four straight birdies on the back nine as he matched Fitzpatrick's 63 to storm to nine under.

Overnight leader Hideto Tanihara slipped six shots off the pace after the Japanese star bogeyed two of the last three holes to return a disappointing 71, while 1999 champion Lee Westwood continued his impressive recent form with a five-birdie 66 lifting the Ryder Cup assistant captain to seven under par.

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