By Tony Jimenez
VIRGINIA WATER England (Reuters) - Francesco Molinari's long-time coach Denis Pugh looked like the cat who devoured the cream on Saturday after the Italian produced one of the best performances of his career.
The 2010 and 2012 Ryder Cup player charged through the field in the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth with a sparkling seven-under-par 65 that contained six birdies and an eagle.
"Francesco's been doing well in practice and generally he's been in good shape," a grinning Pugh told Reuters in an interview as the early-morning clouds and rain gave way to bright sunshine on the outskirts of London.
"He's been swinging the club beautifully and I think today was probably as good as I've seen him play."
Englishman Pugh was also pleased Molinari avoided the temptation to go for broke at the water-guarded 18th.
"He used his brain at the last, he laid up and two-putted for his par five," said the coach after the Italian surged into title contention on six-under 210. "He didn't go for the green in two, go for glory and end up like a dope."
Molinari said the highlight of his day was a chip-in for a three at the par-five 17th.
"It was a really good day and it could have been even better," the 31-year-old said. "I managed to hold it together on 13 and 14 - I missed both those greens and had two 10-footers for par.
"I holed those and then got my reward at 17 with a nice eagle. I hit two good shots just short of the green which was a nice position because the flag was short and left.
"I hit my chip a bit too firm really but it was right on line, hit the flag and went straight in so that was a bonus."
Molinari is not a prolific winner on the European Tour and prides himself on his consistency.
The Italian, renowned for his rock steady game from tee to green, has three victories to his credit but the last came at the 2012 Spanish Open.
"I am not a guy who misses five cuts in a row and then goes on to win a tournament," said Molinari. "It's important for me to build up my confidence.
"It's been a steady year with some good finishes and hopefully this week will be another one. I would have liked to have won in the last two years but I've never been a guy who has won too many tournaments.
"My strength is my consistency and I just have to try and put myself in a good position week after week and hopefully my time will come."
With the U.S. Open and British Open on the horizon in the next two months and the Ryder Cup qualification process hotting up, Molinari seems to be coming into form at the right time.
He was fourth at last month's China Open and then tied for sixth at the Players Championship in Florida, the tournament dubbed golf's unofficial fifth major.
Molinari has featured in the last two Ryder Cups and he certainly does not want to miss out on the chance of making it a hat-trick when Europe defend the biennial team event against the United States in Scotland in September.
"The Ryder Cup plays a part in my thinking," he explained. "After you've played in a couple you definitely do not want to miss it but I'm also conscious of how hard it is going to be to make the team so I need a lot more days like today."
(Editing by Martyn Herman)