Tommy Fleetwood managed to grind out a three under par 69 to lead by one going into the final round of the Volvo Golf Champions in Durban.
The Englishman picked up four birdies and just a solitary bogey in reaching ten under par to be a shot clear of Victor Dubuisson and Joost Luiten, with Louis Oosthuizen two off the pace despite running up a triple bogey seven at the 16th.
Fleetwood, who claimed his first European Tour title in the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles last year, holed a couple of lengthy putts as he turned in a three under 33.
A three-putt from the fringe cost him his only dropped shot of the day at the 14th, but the 22 year old pitched to within five feet at the last to finish on a high note.
“It’s a tough course as it is but obviously when you're not quite on your game it turns into a very, very difficult course,” said Fleetwood.
“I played four or five really good holes, but obviously the rest of it, I struggled. You miss your tee shots you're always going to struggle for pars. I made one bogey but the bogey was always coming at some point, so I was quite cool and calm at the end of it.
“Three under around this golf course, when you're not on your game is an absolutely brilliant score, and so I think it's showing that I'm maturing as a golfer and I can actually score when I'm playing bad, which is one of the most important parts of being a professional golfer.
“Knowing that you can win and thinking you can are miles apart. That week [at Gleneagles] I was good at staying focused on my own game because that last round, things didn't go my way all the time.
“I stayed patient and came in good at the end. If you can stay in with a shout with three or four holes to go, you never know what's going to happen. That's going to be key, just keep going and stay patient.
“All we want to do is win golf tournaments. That's the best reason to win, you beat everybody over the week and it just gives you so much joy.
“It would mean a lot obviously, and first tournament of the year, and I haven't played for five weeks - I would be in a very happy way if I could come away with the trophy tomorrow.”
Dubuisson is third on the European Ryder Cup points list and would be within sight of securing his place on the team with victory and the first prize €507,000 on Sunday.
The 23 year old, who played against Fleetwood several times in amateur golf, said: "I've never hit the ball so badly but my short game saved me today. I could have been three or four over.
"I was a little tired this morning, I didn't sleep well, and I missed a lot of shots. The win (at the Turkish Airlines Open) gave me a lot of confidence, but you can still have bad rounds."
Defending champion and local favourite Oosthuizen had been leading with three holes to play but ran up a seven on the 16th after hitting his second shot into thick undergrowth and having to declare it unplayable.
"It's frustrating that I finally got my seven birdies, which you need to do around this course, but made too many bogeys," the 2010 Open Champion said. "I was not great off the tee and hit a few wayward shots but I'm still happy to be right in there.
"You don't want to give yourself unnecessary work and I had the chance to get to 12 under today, so I need to be more focused tomorrow."
Fellow South African Branden Grace is a shot behind Oosthuizen on seven under, with Welshman Jamie Donaldson - defending champion in Abu Dhabi next week - another stroke back alongside France's Raphaël Jacquelin.
England's Paul Casey shot the lowest round of the week so far to lie four under, giving the 36 year old another reason to be cheerful after learning earlier this week that his American coach Peter Kostis had been given the all-clear following his battle with cancer.