Poulter set to match Garcia

Ian Poulter enhanced his chances of following in the footsteps of his role model Colin Montgomerie when he built up a three-shot lead to take into today's final round of the Italian Open.

Ian Poulter enhanced his chances of following in the footsteps of his role model Colin Montgomerie when he built up a three-shot lead to take into today's final round of the Italian Open.

The Englishman's third-round seven-under-par 65, studded with five birdies in six holes on the back nine, took him to 18 under and in prime position to post his first European Tour victory, in his debut season. His round of 65 yesterday followed his first- and second-round scores of 66 and 67, for a 54-hole total of 198.

A strong homeward nine and a crucial save on the last hole from 25 feet took Poulter three shots ahead of the chasing pack of four, comprising the Argentinian Ricardo Gonzalez, Spain's Francisco Cea, South African Roger Wessels and another Englishman, Van Phillips.

The 24-year-old Poulter is also keen to emulate Mont-gomerie's 1988 feat and become Europe's Rookie of the Year. If we wins today he will equal the achievement of the Spaniard Sergio Garcia, who won a Tour event in his first year as a professional.

The £90,000 first prize would push Poulter £60,000 ahead of Scotland's Alastair Forsyth, his only challenger for the rookie award, before a potential showdown in the Volvo Masters next week.

"It will be a great honourto follow the likes of Colin and Sergio, even if [Garcia] is much younger than me," Poulter said. "But I'm trying not think about it. I'm trying to think about earning enough to make Europe's top 20. That will open even bigger doors, like getting into the World Championship tournament in two weeks."

Poulter began the third round a stroke behind the joint leaders, Elliot Boult of New Zealand and Australia's Richard Green.

An opening barrage from Boult took him three ahead of the field before a bogey on the par-three 10th began a slump. He found the lake in front of the green and had to take a penalty drop, which allowed the pack to close, with Poulter quickest to take advantage of the situation.

After an outward half of 33, which included two birdies, he picked up another two shots, on the 12th and 13th, the latter birdie being the result of a fine recovery from the fairway bunker, his well-struck iron setting up a chip-in from the edge of the green.

That took Poulter to 15 under, alongside Boult atthe top of a hotly-contested leaderboard. Behind them,by a single shot, was Oldcorn, with Green, Wessels and Phillips.

Green, who had dropped a couple of shots, recovered well with four birdies in five holes from the turn to share sixth place with Boult on 202. Both shot 70s yesterday.

Boult needs at least second place to retain his Tour card and Cea - who broke the course record by two shots with a 63 in the second round on Friday - at least fifth.

A lacklustre display by the European No 1, Lee Westwood, left him nine strokes off the pace on 207 after a second successive 70.

"I played poorly and putted worse, same as yesterday and the day before," said the Englishman, for whom a record seventh win of the year is now only a remote possibility. "The greens are a mystery to me. But I never play well straight after a two-week break and I was always treating this as a warm-up for the final two big tournaments."

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