(Reuters) - Francesco Molinari is well placed to end a 71-year drought for Italy on the PGA Tour after earning a share of the third-round lead with Abraham Ancer at the Quicken Loans National on Saturday.
Molinari, seeking his first PGA Tour victory to add to his five on the European Tour, birdied the final two holes for a five-under-par 65 at TPC Potomac at Avenel Farm in Maryland.
But Texas-born Mexican Ancer went even better, matching the course record with an eight-birdie 62.
At 13-under 197, Molinari and Ancer will start Sunday’s final round two shots clear of Americans Zac Blair and Ryan Armour.
Former world number one Tiger Woods notched four successive birdies on the front nine en route to a 68 that left him six shots behind.
Two-times European Ryder Cup member Molinari has been in recent sizzling form in Europe, beating Rory McIlroy to win the BMW PGA Championship outside London last month, so is not likely to be intimidated by Ancer on Sunday.
The world number 17 is ranked 186 spots higher than Ancer, who has only one top-10 finish on the PGA Tour this year.
But Molinari said his approach remained the same.
“Preparation is the same, doing my own thing, trying to do it as well as possible one shot at a time,” he said.
“I know it’s boring and everyone says the same but it’s the way golf works. I need to be mentally strong tomorrow, whatever happens.”
Toney Penna was the last Italian to win on the PGA Tour in 1947. Penna was born in Naples, but grew up in the United States.
Co-leader Ancer said he knew a special day was in the offing when he birdied the par-five 10th to go five-under on the round.
“I was hitting the ball well,” said the 27-year-old. “I just wanted to make as many birdies coming in as possible.”
Woods, meanwhile, will need to make history if he wants to notch his first victory since 2013.
He has never come from more than five shots behind in the final round in any of his 79 PGA Tour victories.
“It was frustrating because I played better than my score indicates,” he said.
Woods is making his final start before the British Open at Carnoustie from July 19-22.
Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina, editing by Ed Osmond