The log jam at the top of the Andalucía Open de España Valle Romano leaderboard was finally broken late in the day on Saturday when young Englishman David Griffiths moved two shots clear in his bid to become the ninth first-time winner on The 2006 European Tour.
A six under par 66 took Griffiths to 17 under par 199 and two clear of Swedes Niclas Fasth and Robert Karlsson going into the final round.
Between them Fasth and Karlsson have collected eight titles on The European Tour International Schedule and with Dane Thomas Björn, who shares fourth place with England’s Graeme Storm on 14 under par, that figure doubles to 16.
Griffiths, however, makes up for what he lacks in past successes with a good game, calm temperament and a deep knowledge of San Roque’s New Course, which is hosting this tournament for the first time.
The 25 year old earned his Tour card from last year’s Qualifying School held at the same venue and he further endorsed his liking for the course by playing the first 52 holes of the tournament without dropping a shot. That impressive run ended at the par three 17th when he pulled a five iron left of the green.
“It’s a brand-new experience leading but it will be an interesting day whatever happens and I’m going to give it my all,” he said.
“I am going to try to keep doing what I am doing. I felt very comfortable out there today and hit a lot of good shots again. I just need to get comfortable early on and keep playing how I am playing.”
Having finished third at the Qualifying School Finals last November, Griffiths continued to enjoy the San Roque New Course as he chalked up an eagle and five birdies to keep out more experienced rivals such as Fasth and Björn, both Ryder Cup players.
While Griffiths goes in search of his first victory, Karlsson is looking for his sixth and his third in Spain. A 68 kept the 2001 Open de España champion in touch alongside Fasth, who matched Griffiths with a best-of-the-day 66.
Fasth was five under through five holes but stumbled approaching the turn with bogeys at the sixth and then again at the ninth, where his second hit a marquee and his third struck a sprinkler head.
“After that my birdie at the 11th was important to get me going again. I expected more birdies to come but they didn’t, not until the 16th. But I hung in there, he said.
“My game is quite sharp. It’s not that the swing is working perfectly, but I am definitely playing well, and I am putting much better. I have to go out there and shoot low tomorrow - you are not going to win this shooting two under par.”
Overnight leader Storm, a former British Amateur champion, chipped in at the last for a 70 to enhance his own chances of a maiden success.