Molinari in the mix at Wentworth

Francesco Molinari stormed into contention to become the second successive Italian winner of the BMW PGA Championship on Saturday.

While compatriot Matteo Manassero's title defence ended after two days and rounds of 80 and 71, Molinari charged through the field with a third round of 65 at Wentworth.

Molinari only made the halfway cut with a shot to spare, but carded six birdies and one bogey before chipping in for an eagle on the 17th, setting the early clubhouse target on six under par.

That was just three off the lead held by Ireland's Shane Lowry, who was one over par for his opening 10 holes, with two-time winner Luke Donald, Thomas Bjorn and Thomas Aiken all on eight under.

Donald, who won the title in 2011 and 2012, had eagled the fourth from 25 feet and recorded nine pars, while overnight joint-leader Bjorn was battling to recover from a double bogey on the first.

The 473-yard par four had also cost Rory McIlroy a six and Molinari revealed he was happy to record his first par of the week on the daunting opener.

"My thought today was just go out and keep the head down and try to do as well as I could," said the Ryder Cup star, who was ninth here last year and seventh in 2012. "I got off to a good start. Finally I didn't bogey the first for the first time in a week which is always nice.

"I managed to play well in the rain, the wind and the sunshine because we've got a bit of everything, so I'm really happy with today's play.

"I was going along nicely and obviously trying to make something the last couple holes. I missed a makeable putt on 16 and hit two really good shots on 17 just short of the green with a makeable chip. I have to say it came out a bit firmer than where I wanted but it hit the flag and went in so it was a pretty nice bonus."

Heavy rain overnight and this morning had left parts of the West Course at Wentworth under water and pushed back starting times by three hours in the European Tour's flagship event.

McIlroy had recovered from his early blunder with birdies at the fourth, seventh, 11th and 12th to briefly get within two shots of the lead.

But after struggling for much of the day, Bjorn suddenly burst into life with a hat-trick of birdies of his own from the 11th to move three clear of Donald and Lowry, who had bogeyed the 12th after a hooked drive into the trees.

England's Anthony Wall had joined Molinari in the clubhouse on six under after a 67, the QPR fan having double cause for celebration after learning on the 17th hole that his side had won the Championship play-off final at Wembley.