Andrew Marshall fired a third round 65 to open a slender one-stroke lead going into tomorrow's final round of the Challenge Tour Grand Final in Bordeaux.
The 28 year old is on 11 under par 202, one ahead of fellow Englishman Richard Bland, who shot 66, and three clear of another Englishman, Philip Golding, who also returned 65, Didier de Vooght from Belgium and South African Ashley Roestoff.
Marshall, who is already assured of his European Tour card for next year, began the day two strokes off the lead but after going out in 31 with four birdies and adding three more after the turn, he was three ahead on 12 under.
However, a three-putt bogey at 16 cut his advantage while Bland birdied the 18th from 15 feet to move to 10 under.
"The closing three holes are tough and if you can get past them without dropping a shot you've done well," said Marshall. "I'm going out to win tomorrow and I've still got my sights set on topping the rankings."
He could achieve both with his maiden Challenge Tour victory, but only if current No.1, Mark Foster finishes down the field. Foster carded a third round 67 for 206 to lie joint sixth with Gary Clark, who shot 68.
Only victory, which carries a top prize of 34,000 euro, will give 44th ranked Bland his card for next year. "I need to win and I'm going for it," he said. "I've been playing well for while and I'm getting better every week. Hopefully this form will stay for one more round."
Golding, seeking a return to the regular tour, returned the lowest outward nine of the week with 30 and got to nine under by taking his birdie haul to seven at the long 14th. But three putts at 16 saw him slip back into a tie with De Vooght and Roestoff.
“I felt I played better yesterday but my putting was much better today,” said Golding. “I didn’t feel that comfortable today and my striking wasn’t great, but I’m going to give Andy a run for his money tomorrow.”
Roestoff’s 66 represented a welcome return to form for the South African, who has seen his fortunes slip since winning the Tusker Kenya Open, the opening tournament of the season back in March.
“I’m starting to get m y confidence back,” he said. “I had my driver stolen during the first tournament in Germany and I’ve struggled since. But I carded seven birdies today and now I’m in with a chance.”
Clark, who occupies sixth place on the rankings without gaining a victory this year, had five birdies in a 68 which would have been even better but for a three-putt bogey at the short 17th.
“I played nicely but I put the brakes on when I dropped a shot at the 13th,” he said. “It would be nice to win a tournament but I haven’t played well enough this year although I’ve had a lot of high finishes.”
Foster birdied three successive holes from the 12th, then hit the flag on the 15th and missed for another from 12 feet. But he picked up another shot at the 17th to stay two strokes clear of Welshman Jamie Donaldson, his big rival for the No.1 spot on the rankings.
Donaldson was two strokes ahead at one stage but he bent his putter after three-putting the 11th for bogey and used his wedge on the remaining seven greens to return 69 for 208.
Three more Britons, Lancastrian Grant Hamerton, Scott Drummond from Scotland, and overnight leader Stuart Little from Gloucestershire, are joint eighth on 207.
Klas Eriksson from Sweden was the third player to return 65, which leaves him in joint 30th spot on 212. “I don’t like to take two weeks off between tournaments which has cost me this week,” he said. “I always come back and play poorly but I found my form on the range today and managed to score seven birdies.