Alex Cejka and Maarten Lafeber maintained their respective positions at the head of affairs after the third round of the Trophée Lancôme, but both players had to endure a testing back nine as the winds got up around the Saint-Nom-la-Bretèche course near Paris.
The duo both finished on nine under par 204, Cejka carding a 72 while overnight leader Lafeber posted a 74, to leave the pair one shot clear of a group of five players; Simon Dyson, Bradley Dredge, Ian Garbutt, Greg Turner and Ian Woosnam.
For a spell in the early part of the third round it looked like the tournament was shaping up as a two-horse race as Cejka and Lafeber streaked clear, both reaching the turn in 34 to see the German at 12 under par and his Dutch opponent at 14 under the card.
But turning for home into the wind and onto the toughest stretch of the 6903 yard course, the leading pair began to falter, drawing the chasing pack back into contention and setting up an intriguing final day with no fewer than 31 players within five shots of the lead.
A damaging hook from the tee proved the main problem for Lafeber who dropped shots at the 11th and 12th before another wild pull into the trees to the left of the 14th fairway cost him a double bogey six.
When the 27 year old from Eindhoven found himself short of the green in two at the 438 yard 15th, three putts led to another bogey five, the only consolation for the Dutchman being that, alongside him, Cejka was faring little better in the tough conditions.
The German, a three time winner on The European Tour International Schedule, was flawless to the turn but missed the green at the short 12th to take bogey four, before missing consecutive par efforts from six feet on the 14th and 15th.
It left both players on nine under par for the tournament but, to their credit, with the chasing pack looming, they recovered their composure and each carded three par figures to finish.
Of the quintet in a share for third, the round of the day was produced by Welshman Ian Woosnam whose six under par 65 featured an amazing start and an incredible finish.
Beginning his round at the 364 yard tenth, Sam Torrance’s Vice-Captain in The 34th Ryder Cup Matches at The De Vere Belfry a fortnight ago, executed the perfect lob wedge approach straight into the hole for an eagle two.
Four birdies and a solitary dropped shot at the 399 yard second followed, before the Welshman finished in style at the 374 yard ninth hole, rolling in a monster birdie putt from all of 60 feet.
“It is obviously always nice to finish like that and the start I had was pretty spectacular too,” he said. “I hit a pretty good drive and left myself the perfect distance for my lob wedge. The ball landed about eight or nine yards from the pin and just rolled in – nice to get a bit of luck for a change.”
Of the four players alongside Woosnam on 205, the most consistent round of the day was carded by New Zealander Greg Turner who carded only one bogey in his 67.
“It was certainly the opposite of the conditions we had in the first couple of rounds, it started calm enough but then the wind really got up,” said Turner. “I haven’t really been playing well recently but today I got the ball out of the middle of the club and I gave myself plenty of chances.”
Elsewhere Simon Dyson produced the biggest birdie haul of those on 205, seven in total in his 67, Bradley Dredge holed a brave 15 footer on the last for his 70, while Ian Garbutt recovered from bogeying the opening hole to post a 68.
Further down the leaderboard, Sergio Garcia kept alive his hopes of a successful title defence despite a rollercoaster third round 70 for a six under par total of 207 to lie only three shots off the lead when, at one point during the third round, he had been nine adrift.
The Spaniard’s mixed bag included an eagle three at the 522 yard sixth hole, four birdies, three bogeys and a double bogey six at the 408 yard 13th.