Marcel Siem took another step towards a Masters Tournament debut next month as a third round 69 gave the German a four shot lead at the Trophée Hassan II.
Three clear overnight, the 32 year old was caught by Finland’s Mikko Ilonen and England’s David Horsey on the front nine, but pulled clear again with a run of four birdies in six holes around the turn and finished the day on 15 under par.
The Open de France champion needs a victory at Golf du Palais Royal to give himself a chance of climbing into the Official World Golf Ranking’s top 50 on Sunday in the nick of time for an Augusta National invite.
After bogeying the first, both 2011 winner Horsey and Ilonen joined Siem in a share of the lead.
However, he converted a ten foot birdie chance at the seventh and from 12 feet at the ninth to turn one ahead.
Siem extended his lead with a two-putt birdie at the long tenth, but Ilonen joined Horsey in second when he eagled the same hole following a brilliant second to six feet.
Ilonen had a chance to narrow the gap at the top to one when he hit his approach to the 11th to within three feet, but missed out on a birdie when his ball moved a fraction as he addressed it.
That proved costly as Siem stuck his tee shot to within a foot of the 12th pin and, although he three-putted the long 15th for par, he birdied the next as Ilonen had to chip-in just to rescue a bogey.
Four ahead with two to play, Siem leaked his drive left at the 17th, then got a flyer into a bush and, having done well just to find the ball, had to force the ball out from amongst several twigs into a greenside bunker before getting up and down for a bogey.
Ilonen completed a routine birdie on the same hole, but like Horsey finished with a bogey to lie second alongside Spain’s Pablo Larrazábal on 11 under.
“Until the 15th I was really happy with the round,” said Siem. “I got over a tough start with tough condition and all the guys just behind me seemed to start really well and almost caught me up.
“I had to hole a few big putts just to stay ahead and then I managed to pull away a little bit. But then 15 and 17 were disappointing because you are really looking to pick up a couple of shots there but I managed to give one away.
“There was pressure there so it was great to make a few putts and pick up four in six holes. It is very nice to have the gap back for the start of the final round tomorrow. I am pretty confident at the moment so I know the swing is there when I trust it and just let it go. That will be very important tomorrow.”
Ilonen refused to rule out ending his six-year hiatus from the winner’s circle despite his disappointing finish.
“I think the momentum changed a lot on 11 when I had the penalty shot for the ball moving at address,” he said.
“I still made four, but after that I hit good and bad shots and I think that affected me. The one thing I did well throughout the day was putt well so I was really pleased with that.
“I am four back and would rather be a little bit closer but we have three guys four behind that can catch him but one of us will have to go really low tomorrow and I think the golf course will allow that. I have made enough birdies and eagles to know I can do it, but I just have to avoid the mistakes.”