Home favourite Martin Kaymer was part of a six-way tie for the lead at Golf Club Gut Laerchenhof as the BMW International Open set itself up for a dramatic finish on Sunday.
The two-time Major Championship winner birdied two of his last three holes to delight the local crowds and sign for a 71 that left him alongside countryman Maximilian Kieffer, Dane Lucas Bjerregaard, Australian Scott Hend and English pair Chris Paisley and Aaron Rai at five under.
Shot Clock Masters champion Mikko Korhonen and Chilean Nico Geyger were then at four under, with 20 players within three shots of the lead.
Bjerregaard and Paisley took advantage of the calmer conditions earlier in the day to post rounds of 67 and 68 respectively, while Kaymer, Kieffer and Rai all signed for rounds of 71 and overnight leader Hend slipped back with a 73.
Kaymer will draw huge crowds when he goes in search of European Tour title number 12 but he is unlikely to have it all his own way, with Paisley looking for a second win of the season and Hend and Bjerregarrd going for career titles number two and three respectively.
Rai has yet to get over the line on the European Tour but won three times on the Challenge Tour last season, while Kieffer claimed a Challenge Tour win en route to graduating in 2012.
Bjerregaard made a charge through the field on the front nine, picking up birdies on the fourth, fifth, seventh and eighth to turn in 32.
The Portugal Masters champion then birdied the 11th but a double-bogey on the next after a three-putt saw him slip backwards before he went birdie-bogey-birdie from the 13th, with an eighth birdie of the day on the driveable 17th handing him a share of the lead.
“I'm very happy, I played really well, to be honest,” he said. “It's one of the best ball-striking rounds I've had in a very long time. I had a couple of hiccups on the back nine, three-putted from four feet on 12 which was a shame really because I lost a bit of momentum but nice to finish off with a couple of birdies on the closing holes.”
Paisley had turned in 38 but he made four birdies in a row from the tenth and when he added another on the 15th, he was just a shot off the lead. A monster putt on the 17th then had him in a share of the lead and he and Bjerregaard briefly led on their own before Kaymer's sparkling finish.
“I just need to keep doing what I'm doing this back nine,” said Paisley. “Now that I've won before I know I can do it, even before the win I believed I could do it but you don't actually know until you've done it. I'm just going to go out tomorrow and enjoy it and do the best I can.”
Kaymer - the 2008 champion - had birdied the fourth but he found water on the ninth and then dropped further shots on the tenth and 12th as his chances looked to be disappearing.
The 33 year old does not have two Majors for nothing, however, and he made the most of the par five 13th, put his tee-shot to ten feet on the 16th and then holed a six-footer on the next to join the lead.
“It's always nice to be in contention, especially for me because it's been a while but the last few weeks I've played very well,” he said. “In Italy I had a good chance but I didn't really perform on the moving day. Today I didn't need to perform as good as I thought. On top of that, winning in your own country speaks for itself.”
Rai had been quietly going about his business and he sandwiched birdies on the third and seventh with bogeys on the second and ninth before taking advantage of the 15th.
“It was a good steady round overall," he said. "Conditions were a little easier today, there wasn't as much wind so you could make a score a little more compared to the last couple of days but overall I was satisfied with how today went."
Playing partner Kieffer turned in 35 with birdies on the first and sixth and a bogey on the second and then had a roller coaster on the back nine. He missed the green on the 14th and found sand on the 16th to drop shots but birdied the 15th and 17th after a nice up-and-down.
“It's always nice to be in contention and it's even more special to do it here so close to home, a home tournament, BMW tournament,” he said. “I coped well the front nine and kind of lost the focus in the moment here and there. That has to be the goal tomorrow, just keep focused on the present and control my thoughts.”
Hend got a plugged lie on the first but hit back with birdies on the third and fourth to lead by two at seven under. He bogeyed the seventh and eighth but hit the front on his own again on the tenth before double-bogeying the 13th after finding heavy rough, then sand, and three-putting.
A wonderful tee-shot on the 16th to six feet put him back into a share of top spot.
“I'm very fortunate to be where I am,” he said. “Hopefully today was my bad day and onwards and upwards tomorrow. I don't think you can be super aggressive out there because you can make a three but you can also make a six. So you've still got to stay within your game plan and hopefully roll a few putts in. We'll see who rolls the most putts in tomorrow.”
Finn Korhonen is going for a second win in three weeks and he carded a 69 with four birdies and a bogey, while Qualifying School graduate Geyger carded a one over par 73.
Defending champion Andres Romero made five birdies in a row from the 13th in a 67 and he had some illustrious company at three under, with Ryder Cup stars Thomas Pieters and Andy Sullivan, four-time European Tour winner Søren Kjeldsen, Hero Indian Open champion Matt Wallace, UBS Hong Kong Open champion Wade Ormsby, Portuguese José-Filipe Lima and Scotland's Scott Jamieson all two shots off the lead.
England's David Howell, American David Lipsky, Italian Edoardo Molinari and Scot Connor Syme were then at two under, a shot clear of a group containing 2017 Masters Tournament champion Sergio Garcia.