Darren Clarke and Robert Karlsson fought a running battle against the capricious winds swirling around El Saler in the third round of the Via Digital Open de España, but now prepare for a duel against each other in a bid to capture one of the oldest titles in golf.
Karlsson crafted a one under par 71 in the difficult conditions to finish the day with a nine under par total of 207, the same total as Clarke, who birdied the last hole from 30 feet for a level par of 72 on a day when low scoring was a rarity.
Now Karlsson reckons he can finally reach the winner's circle again after some near misses. He said: "This year I've been in the last group quite often, so sooner or later one of these days..."
The Swede and the Irishman lead by two strokes from Denmark’s Soren Hansen, who compiled a 70 for 209, while Spanish hopes of a home victory soared as Miguel Angel Jiménez chiselled out a 70 for 210 alongside Swedish rookie, Carl Pettersson, who carded a 74.
Only three players managed to break 70 over the rugged, windswept links – Stephen Gallacher of Scotland, Swede Christopher Hanell and South African, Jean Hugo, whose 69 propelled him into fifth place on the leaderboard.
Karlsson, chasing his fourth European Tour title, appeared set to carry a clear lead into the final day, but after carding four birdies in the first 15 holes, he delivered an uncomfortably weak conclusion to his round with a pair of bogeys to allow Clarke to draw level with that birdie on the 18th.
Afterwards Clarke claimed a recent slight adjustment to his swing had "turned the light on" for him and produced a marked improvement in his ball-striking.
He said: "I've hit the ball fantastic all day, I've had 36 putts for 72 and to do that on a course as difficult as this in windy conditions says a lot for my ball-striking.
"Somebody turned the light on for me at Augusta (at the US Masters). I figured out a little bit about what I've been doing wrong and have been doing wrong for the last four or five years."
That somebody, he later revealed, was a combination of himself, caddie Billy Foster, manager 'Chubby' Chandler and Tiger Woods' coach, Butch Harmon, and related to a problem with the clubface at impact.
"Something just clicked into place and all of a sudden I felt great," he added.
The Ulsterman, after opening with a bogey, sunk a 40 foot putt for a birdie two at the short fourth but then slipped back again with a bogey on the sixth. He reached the turn in 37, a shot worse than past champion, Jarmo Sandelin, who had figured near the top before dropping back with an inward 40 for a round of 76, and Karlsson who both notched seven pars, a bogey and a birdie in their first nine.
Hansen managed to combat the breeze with great aplomb, picking up shots at the first and fifth and recording 16 pars for his 70 and third spot, but overnight joint leader Andrew Raitt, from Roehampton, was having a difficult third round.
The 31 year old began badly with a double bogey six at the first, and after adding another dropped shot at the fourth he fell away dramatically and had to settle for a 79 and two under par total of 214.
Jiménez, playing in Europe for the first time this year after campaigning in the United States, jostled his way into the shake up thanks to a ha-trick of birdies at the 12th, 13th and 14th but a dropped shot at the last left him on 210.
Home favourite Sergio Garcia was appearing to relish the weather however. He recovered from two bogeys in the first six holes to notch birdies at the seventh, 11th, 12th and 15th but bogeyed the 17th and, at three under par, has to rely on a spectacular finish to get into contention.