James Heath moved into the driving seat for a first European Challenge Tour victory in ten years as the Englishman took a one-shot lead into the final round of the SSE Scottish Hydro Challenge hosted by Macdonald Hotels and Resorts after an enthralling moving day in Aviemore.
The 33 year old was at one point four shots behind his playing partner Chris Selfridge of Northern Ireland, who had extended his one-shot overnight lead with a stunning five under par front nine which included an eagle at the par four ninth.
But Heath used all of his experience and guile and, on the two occasions he dropped shots - with bogeys at the eighth and 11th holes - he bounced back straight away with birdies at the ninth and 12th.
The Londoner carded eight birdies in all and signed for a six under 65 which moved him to 18 under par as Macdonald Spey Valley Golf Club prepares for an intriguing final day.
“I’m really pleased with that round,” said the former protégé of Nick Faldo, whose last win came in Denmark in 2006. “I stuck in really well, certainly in the last seven holes when Chris took a decent lead over me. I just hit good shots and holed good putts.
“The way I would describe it is that I just kept hanging around. It’s quite easy to lose focus sometimes and drop a little bit back but I did well to keep up there.
“I putted nicely after not putting very well in the last few weeks. I got a feel for the greens and for the pace and I holed a 35-footer with about six feet of break at the second, so that calmed me down a little bit. It’s nice to get a birdie in the back pocket early doors.
“The scoring is so bunched that you have to grind every shot so it’s important I just keep going. It’s nice to be in a match play situation like today to narrow your focus but, because there are loads of guys there, the key tomorrow is to just try get the best out of my round.”
Selfridge, meanwhile, is aiming to become the first Northern Irish winner of a regular Challenge Tour event since Gareth Maybin in 2008 (although Michael Hoey’s win at the European Tour’s dual-ranking Madeira Islands Open in 2011 also counted on the developmental tour's rankings).
The 24 year old had got off to a flier in the Highlands, birdieing the first hole before picking up a shot each at the sixth and seventh hole and then putting the icing on the cake of a superb front nine by holing a wedge from 60 yards for a two at the ninth.
The former University of Toledo graduate could not continue that momentum into the back nine though, bogeying the 12th and then following a birdie at the 17th with another bogey at the last to card a four under 67 for a 17 under total.
“I didn’t play as well as I would have liked but I’m happy with how I scored,” said the Castledawson player. “I holed a few key putts, long ones, so I was probably riding my luck a little bit, but I’ll take it and I’m just looking forward to tomorrow.
“I haven’t looked at the leaderboard too much but this is uncharted territory for me. I’ve never been this close going into the final round so I don’t have any expectations or anything, I just need to go and play.
“If I play like I have been playing and keep making the putts I’ve been making, then I’ll have a chance but who knows.”
Anton Karlsson was a shot further back after the young Swede equalled the course record with a stunning nine under 62, having already enjoyed a hole-in-one on the opening day of the €250,000 event.
The 22 year old got off to a magnificent start, birdieing the opening three holes and he did not take his foot off the pedal for the rest of the day as three more birdies took him to the turn in 29 shots, before an eagle at the 13th and a birdie at the 17th put him right in the mix.
“I would say it’s the best round of my career,” he said. “I’ve had a couple of rounds where they looked like they were going to end up like this one but none where I really went all the way. Nine under is my lowest tournament score so it’s great.
“It was a mix of hitting it close a few times, then making a few good putts some other times, and I had a couple of ones coming in that could have dropped as well, but for the most part everything was very good.
“I absolutely love this course, I even enjoyed it playing the practice round. It’s probably one of the best so far this year on the Challenge Tour so I love being here.”
Matthieu Pavon, the leader of the Road to Oman Rankings, was in fourth place on his own after a seven under par 64 contributed to a 14 under total, while Sam Hutsby, who also equalled the course record 62 on day three, was one of three players another shot further back in a share of fifth.