David Howell (Getty Images)
David Howell and Anders Hansen share the lead heading into the final round of the Alstom Open de France following a topsy-turvy third day at Le Golf National near Paris.
Hansen and George Coetzee spent much of the afternoon at the summit of the leaderboard, and each made it to eight under either side of a 35-minute interruption caused by a brief thunderstorm.
However, both men were to falter in the closing stages of their penultimate rounds, the Dane bogeying 16 and 17 while South African Coetzee dropped three shots in the space of six holes to sit one off the pace at five under.
Their late struggles provided excellent news for Howell, a four-time European Tour winner who is now ranked 350 in the world.
The affable Englishman, two under overnight, surged into contention with a hugely impressive 67 containing five birdies and just one bogey.
“I played beautifully. It’s been three good rounds so far,” said Howell.
"Today was probably the way you want to play the golf course. The way I played, I kept the ball on the whole in the fairway and took my chances when they came along.
“You’ve got to play steady golf around here. You can’t smash it all over the place and expect to score.
“You've got to be patient and play strategically, not make too many stupid errors and when the birdie chances come, the greens are perfect, so you can hope to hole some putts from 20 or 30 feet as well.
“The confidence is building by the day and today's round was important for me, and tomorrow's will be of course. In decent position after 36, you never want to go backwards, and to play such a nice round, I was very pleased for my confidence. I’m enjoying it.”
Despite his late wobble, Hansen declared himself satisfied with a round of 69 that leaves him well placed to claim a fourth European Tour title.
“I’m very pleased,” he said. “Obviously disappointed to drop shots on six and 16, and on 17 I hit a bad drive, but two bogeys on a tough, tough day like today; it’s very decent.
“I’ve heard it’s going to be very, very windy tomorrow. We’ll see what’s going to happen.”
Hansen has been making changes to his swing and is thrilled to see his hard work paying off.
“This is where I want to be and this is what I've worked towards,” he added.
“I'm happy to see the changes are working well and I'm hitting a lot of good shots out there. The more comfortable I get with the things I'm doing, you think the chances are that I'm going to play better, so all in all I'm very pleased."
Home favourite Raphaël Jacquelin went round in 70 to lie two behind Howell and Hansen. He was joined on four under by overnight leader Marcel Siem, who struggled to 73 after carding back to back 68s earlier in the week.
Jacquelin paid tribute to the support he received on the course and highlighted how important this event is for French players.
“It was great to see the public coming, even if the weather was not very good,” he said. “I hope they are going to be there a lot tomorrow and support me. I will try to do my best, and we'll see.
“It's like a fifth major for us, and so it would mean a lot but I don't want to put too much pressure (on myself).
“The course is putting a lot of pressure on myself already. So I will try to do my best again.”
Henrik Stenson and Ian Poulter were a shot further back, while David Lynn showed tremendous character in posting a 72 that left him on two under.
Lynn started double bogey-triple bogey and lost further ground on the fourth before bouncing back superbly with five birdies.