Englishman James Hepworth will take a two shot lead into the final round of the Norwegian Challenge after firing a four under par 68 on day three.
Saturday is traditional known as ‘moving day’, and so it proved as a number of players surged to the top of the leaderboard from lower down the field, and the overnight leaders struggled.
Swede Pelle Edberg tumbled off the top with a six over par 78 and Daniel Vancsik and Roland Steiner, who were two shots off the lead at the start of the day also struggled, making 75 and 73 respectively.
Hepworth was among those to take advantage, as was Branden Grace, who impressed with a six under par 66, which finished with a flourish of three consecutive birdies. The South African is joined on eight under by James Heath of England, Irishman Simon Thornton, Scotsmen Craig Lee and Andrew McArthur and Spaniard Francis Valera.
Hepworth is 136th in the current Challenge Tour Rankings having only made three cuts from ten events so far this season. Today, however, he opened with three consecutive birdies and picked up more shots on the ninth, 16th and 18th. Only a double bogey at the eighth marred his card.
“I’m not too familiar with being in this position this year,” said the Yorkshireman, who has won twice on the Challenge Tour, in 2003 and 2006. “I feel like I’ve played well all season but it’s a very fine line – I’ve been missing cuts by a shot.
“Everything has fallen into place this week and I’m playing very well. I’ve just got to try and take it into tomorrow and not think too much about my position, just forget where I am and get on with it.”
Grace, in contrast, has had an impressively consistent campaign with six top ten finishes to lie eighth in the Rankings.
He said: “I hit the ball really well and didn’t make any mistakes, which was nice as I was very up and down yesterday. I hit all the greens and made a couple of putts, and it was a good way to finish the round.
“On the 16th, the par five, I chipped on and holed the putt from about two metres, and on the 17th I holed out from about 40ft. Then I holed a 15-footer on the 18th, so it was nice to see some putts roll in.
“I wanted to shoot five or six under and give myself a chance and I’ve managed to do that. Tonight I’ll be watching the rugby – South Africa versus Australia – and I can’t wait.”
Lee was delighted to be at the top of the leaderboard, but rued a missed putt from four feet on the 18th which would have given him the outright lead.
“I played nicely on the front nine and putted very well, but it was a round of two nines and I seemed to change into a different golfer on the back nine.
“I didn’t hit great drives off the tenth and 11th and then hit a shocking drive on the 13th and ended up with a double bogey. I had quite good momentum going until then, so it was like hitting a brick wall, and I limped home from there. Then I missed a short one for birdie at the last.
“If someone said to me on Wednesday I’d be joint leader going into Sunday I’d have taken it, but when you have the opportunity to be in front and it slips away it’s always disappointing.
“There are plenty of positives to take into tomorrow and if the putter works as well as it did today then I should have a chance.”
Thornton credited a different mental approach for his fine form this week, commenting: “I’ve just been setting myself goals now where I get to a point on the course and I say to myself ‘Right, you need two or three more birdies from here’, as opposed to in the past where I’ve tried to set a goal for the entire round of seven or eight birdies.”
Two former Junior Ryder Cup players are the highest placed Norwegians, 16 year old amateur Kristoffer Ventura and Marius Thorp both reaching five under par with rounds of 71 and 69 respectively on day three.