WENTWORTH, May 28, 2011 (AFP) - A dramatic day's play saw Italian sensation Matteo Manassero and world number two Luke Donald emerge joint top of the leaderboard after Saturday's third round of the European PGA Championship here at Wentworth.
Both men shot a one-over-par 72 to head into the denouement two strokes clear of chasing pair Lee Westwood and Paraguay's Fabrizio Zanotti, who both carded a 69.
Donald is bidding to oust fellow Englishman Lee Westwood as world number one but 18-year-old Manassero, seeking a third title in barely as year as a pro, muscled in on the scene to bag a share of the limelight as his outward 36 outshone Donald's 40.
Five under for his overall 208, the Italian, the youngest ever player to make the cut in the Masters last year, would vault into the world top 20 were he to win this prize and he promised more of the same on the final day.
"I am certainly not as strong mentally as them (Donald and Westwood) because they more experienced and everything, but I will try to fight," Manassero promised.
"Really I don't think it's going to be a mental battle. It's going to be the guy who plays and putts better."
Westwood noted admiringly: "I've been on Tour longer than he's been on Earth - but he's very good."
Westwood himself mixed the very good with the rather less good as birdies at the fourth, sixth and 11th lifted him to within a shot of the lead only to bogey the 15th.
Donald, who set off with a blazing round of 64, had led with Alvaro Quiros at the half-way mark but Saturday saw the Englishman drop five shots in five holes to slide off the pace before he rallied on the back nine.
Quiros, cheered by a 67 on Friday, failed to scale such heights as he triple-bogeyed the ninth and the Spaniard stood four shots off the lead at the end of the day's play.
With Westwood still strongly in contention Donald may have to wait a little longer to take over the top ranking.
Third-ranked Martin Kaymer is well down the field and nine strokes off the lead after a 72 leaving the English pair to fight it out.
Rory McIlroy was meanwhile left to curse a bogey on the final hole, having just survived the cut.
Four early birdies helped his cause but a bogey six at the 18th left him with a three-under par 68 and one over par for the tournament, six strokes off the leaders.
South Africa's Ernie Els, whose re-design of the Wentworth course was criticised as "unfair" by England's Ian Poulter on Friday, was two over after five holes.
Leading and selected scores in the third round of the European PGA Championship here at Wentworth on Saturday (GBR/IRL unless stated, par 71):
208 - Matteo Manassero (ITA) 66-70-72, Luke Donald 64-72-72
210 - Fabrizio Zanotti (PAR) 71-70-69, Lee Westwood 72-69-69
211 - Simon Dyson 71-68-72, Bradley Dredge 68-74-69, Raphael Jacquelin (FRA) 72-70-69
212 - Peter Hanson (SWE) 70-73-69, David Horsey 70-68-74, Alvaro Quiros (ESP) 69-67-76, Jose Manuel Lara (ESP) 68-70-74, Johan Edfors (SWE) 66-75-71
213 - Felipe Aguilar (CHI) 70-70-73, Peter Whiteford 71-69-73, Anders Hansen (DEN) 69-72-72, Ross Fisher 75-68-70, Y.E. Yang (KOR) 71-70-72
214 - Martin Wiegele (AUT) 77-65-72, Rory McIlroy 76-70-68, David Howell 71-71-72, Jamie Donaldson 71-71-72, Thomas Levet (FRA) 69-71-74
215 - Thomas Aiken (RSA) 71-67-77, Shiv Kapur (IND) 74-71-70, Retief Goosen (RSA) 74-71-70, Colin Montgomerie 69-75-71, Rhys Davies 74-70-71, Darren Clarke 69-72-74, Shane Lowry 74-72-69, Ernie Els (RSA) 75-68-72, Ian Poulter 68-74-73, Paul Casey 72-71-72, Edoardo Molinari (ITA) 74-72-69, Marcus Fraser (AUS) 70-72-73
216 - Jamie Elson 72-71-73, Robert Rock 73-71-72, Matthew Morris 75-71-70, Ignacio Garrido (ESP) 75-71-70, Steven O'Hara 74-71-71, Oscar Floren (SWE) 67-77-72
217 - Ricardo Gonzalez (ARG) 74-70-73, Marcel Siem (GER) 77-69-71, Martin Kaymer (GER) 74-71-72, Shiv Shankar Prasad Chowrasia (IND) 71-71-75, Ross McGowan 68-74-75
218 - Carlos Del Moral (ESP) 75-71-72, Alvaro Velasco (ESP) 71-70-77, Tano Goya (ARG) 77-69-72, Kenneth Ferrie 69-75-74, Thongchai Jaidee (THA) 74-69-75
219 - Francesco Molinari (ITA) 75-71-73, Hennie Otto (RSA) 70-71-78, John Parry 71-71-77, Jaco Van Zyl (RSA) 76-68-75, Andrew Dodt (AUS) 71-73-75, Michael Hoey 71-74-74, Paul Broadhurst 76-69-74
220 - Graeme Storm 74-71-75, Fredrik Andersson Hed (SWE) 73-73-74
221 - Mark Foster 71-75-75, Seve Benson 74-72-75
222 - Jason Levermore 74-72-76
224 - Greig Hutcheon 74-71-79
225 - Scott Jamieson 71-69-85
227 - Gareth Maybin 74-70-83, Scott Strange (AUS) 72-71-84