Andrew McArthur maintained his one shot lead at the D+D Real Slovakia Challenge courtesy of a four under par third round of 68 on a day when Englishman Andrew Johnston set a new course record with a spectacular 62.
McArthur stayed steady under the pressure of several challengers to the throne on a day of low scoring, as England's Sam Hutsby and Spaniard Alvaro Velasco both carded seven under par rounds of 65 to move to second and third place, respectively.
Johnston, meanwhile, stepped onto the 16th tee with a 59 in his sights and, while he couldn’t reach the magic number, a ten under par round and the course record at the stunning Penati Golf Resort was consolation enough.
But it was the second round leader from Scotland who remained in pole position for a first Challenge Tour title since 2008, despite carding his first and only bogey of the week at the par four ninth hole.
Five birdies were enough to move McArthur to 17 under for the tournament and keep the Scottish flag flying high at the summit on a week when the eyes of the golfing world are on his home nation and the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open.
“It was really steady today and I played very well but it feels as though I didn’t hole any putts,” said the 35 year old. “I think my longest birdie putt was three feet so I took advantage of most of the par fives.
“I gave myself loads of chances and hit a couple of great shots for tap-in birdies but unfortunately no longer putts dropped.
“I’m delighted to still be in the lead but I almost feel like if I’d had two or three more birdies, it would have taken a lot of the guys out of the reckoning and as it is now, it’s jam-packed at the top.
“I'm going to have to shoot a really low round tomorrow because it’s that kind of course. It’s there for the taking and a lot of the boys are tapping them in for birdie so I just need more of the same and to hole a few more putts. Hopefully I can be the one who shoot that low one tomorrow, I'm playing well enough.”
McArthur’s last victory on the Challenge Tour came six years ago at the Challenge de España but he feels that if he is still out in front going down the stretch, he has the experience and guile to close it out and add a second title to his trophy cabinet.
“If I make a few birdies on the front nine I’ll be able to see where I'm at with nine to go and start thinking about it,” said the Glaswegian. “On that golf course though, even if I reached the turn in five under I still might not be in the lead.
“There’s no point at all in worrying about it, you just have to try and make as many birdies as you can. I was seeing it so clearly today but there are no guarantees, even with experience.
“I’m definitely looking forward to it tomorrow, it’s my first time for a while so hopefully I can just continue what I'm doing and see how I end up, but a few ten footers dropping wouldn’t go amiss!”
Hutsby enjoyed a terrific start to his third round as the 25 year old birdied the first and eagled the second on the way to his lowest round of the week, which moved him to within a shot of lead on 16 under par.
The former Walker Cup player was one shot clear of his playing partner and 2010 Challenge Tour Number One Velasco, who is chasing a third title in the second tier.
The round of the day belonged to Johnston, winner of the Scottish Hydro Challenge hosted by Macdonald Hotels and Resorts two weeks ago, as he carded two eagles and seven birdies to set a new course record on the Nicklaus-designed Legend course, which is hosting Slovakia’s first ever major men’s professional tournament this week.
“I was getting fairly excited at one point,” said the 25 year old, who moved from just inside the cut line, after round two, to tied fifth spot on 13 under par. “After a four under front nine I wasn’t too excited but I told myself to just take advantage of the par fives coming in and see what happens.
“I made a good birdie at the tenth, had an eagle on 11 and then birdied 12 and then I was thinking, ‘this could really be good now’. At 16 the pin was right at the top tier on the right so I decided to go straight at it.
“I hit it really well and it went over the flag. It was probably three or four yards too long and bounced over so it was a nightmare shot coming back - it was a good bogey four in the end. I knew I was hitting the ball well though so there was no need to back down, I just thought ‘let’s go for it’.
“I scrambled so well just to make the cut this week so I wanted to go out and have some fun and see what happens. I always look forward to Sundays so this one will be good, I can’t wait.”