INVERNESS (AFP) - Alex Noren will take a two-shot lead into the final round of the Scottish Open at a rainy Castle Stuart, after birdies at the final two holes on Saturday.
The Swede hit a stunning tee shot on the par-three 17th hole, before adding a birdie-three at the last to reach 12-under 204 for the tournament.
Englishman Tyrrell Hatton, ranked one place above Noren at 98th in the world rankings, had five birdies and an eagle in a six-under third round of 66 to sit tied for second alongside Matteo Manassero, who fired a 68.
Noren's only win in the last five seasons came last year in the Scandinavian Masters, but after taking a one-stroke halfway advantage, he increased his lead in Scotland.
The 33-year-old had three birdies in his last four holes in the second round, and was similarly impressive in the closing stages on Saturday.
"To birdie the last and to go into tomorrow with a two-shot (lead) was very nice," said Noren.
"All I was trying to do was put in a good round and then deal with the weather that rolled in, but the good thing the course soaked up the rain, while other courses would have flooded.
"The thing is now that anyone who is six or seven under could shoot a good round, so I will be trying to do the same."
Italy's Manassero has plummeted out of the game's elite in recent years, having struggled since his BMW PGA Championship win in 2013 at Wentworth.
He became the youngest European Tour winner in 2010 at the age of 17 years and 188 days in winning the Castellon Masters, but is now ranked 596th in the world and has not had a top-10 finish since the 2014 Scottish Open.
The 23-year-old eagled the sixth and then birdied three holes in succession near the end of his third round to reach 10 under par overall despite also carding three bogeys.
"It's exciting being up high on the leaderboard and with a chance of winning tomorrow, always exciting," he said.
"I playing really well but then I am scrambling well and making some good escapes and that has been the key for these three days.
"So it's even more exciting and I'm very happy, and looking forward to tomorrow."
The top four players in the top 12 this week who are not exempt for the British Open will get invites to Royal Troon for the tournament starting on July 14.
Currently those spots are held by Manassero, Hatton, Justin Walters and Romain Wattel.
There are a host of top players still close enough to Noren to possibly mount a challenge on Sunday afternoon.
Former Major champions Graeme McDowell (69) and Martin Kaymer (68) are only four and six shots back respectively, while world No. 6 Henrik Stenson fired a brilliant 66 to get to five under par.
Andy Sullivan (68), who contended at last week's French Open, is at eight under, while South African Walters is tied for third with Danny Lee (70) three shots behind after a 65, the joint-best round of the day.
Five-time Major champion and former Scottish Open winner Phil Mickelson had to settle for a two-under 70 and is tied for 51st place.