Gloucestershire's Stuart Little is on the brink of clinching his first Challenge Tour title after snatching the lead in the third round of the Stanbic Zambia Open in Lusaka. Two shots off the pace at the start of the day, the 33-year-old left-hander carded a bogey-free 68 which leaves him on 11-under-par 208, a stroke ahead of overnight leader Graeme van der Nest from South Africa and two clear of Mark Foster and Wallie Coetsee.
Little's five birdies brought his haul to 15 for the week but he didn't feel he had played that well. "I hit some good shots and some bad ones but when I hit a bad one I managed to get up-and-down for par," he said.
Having been beaten in a play-off for the Norwegian Open last summer, Little put his current success down to his on-course attitude. "I'm just concentrating on the next shot and not thinking too far ahead," he said.
With five shots covering the top 18 players, the Gloucester man will have to stay focussed if he is to collect that elusive first title.
Van der Nest failed to maintain his form as he carded four birdies and as many bogeys in a 73, while fellow Springbok Coetsee only picked up one shot with a 72. Foster, the former double English Amateur, also seeking his maiden Challenge Tour win, strengthened his challenge with a third successive 70. "I've struggled over the front nine all week but I managed to take my chances coming home with an eagle and two birdies," he said.
Seven players are locked in fifth place on 211 including former Zambia Open champion Marc Cayeux and Sweden’s Marten Olander, who returned a best-of the-week 65 including an eagle and seven birdies. After signing his card he went immediately to the practice bunker. “I only got into sand once today and it brought me a bogey,” he said.
However, the 29 year old birdied four of the five par-fives and admitted he got lucky at the 13th when his ball found the water but skimmed out and allowed him to chip and putt for a birdie. “That was the key to the round,” he said. “It could have been a lot worse but for that slice of luck although I hit it close a lot and putted well.”
Cayeux ran in six birdies and avoided dropping a shot in his 67, while England’s Lee Thompson had six birdies in a 68. Joining them on 211 are another Englishman, Andrew Marshall and Americans Mike Capone and Tyrol Auret, all of whom returned 69, but Sweden’s Mattias Nilsson, joint second going into the third round, slipped back with 73.
There is another large group on 212, led by England’s Simon Hurd, whose 67 included seven birdies. Scots Roger Beames (70) and Euan Little (72) are still in the hunt for their first titles and are joined on seven under by James Hepworth (71) from England, Zimbabwe’s Mike Lamb (70), and first round leader Ulrich van den Berg (72) from South Africa.