Norwegian Espen Kofstad soared into a share of the lead in the Doubletree by Hilton Acaya Open with a sublime five under par 65 in the third round.
The 24 year old, whose best finish on the Challenge Tour is tied fifth in the 2011 Scottish Hydro Challenge, notched six birdies against one bogey to reach four under par alongside Finland’s Roope Kakko, who signed for a level par 70 at Acaya Golf Resort in southern Italy.
The pair are one shot clear of Dane Joachim B Hansen, and two in front of a trio comprising Frenchman Alex Kaleka (65), former amateur world number one Peter Uihlein, who finished with a triple bogey for a round of 72, and 2008 Ryder Cup player Oliver Wilson (66).
With the overnight leaders Kakko, Uihlein and Raymond Russell, who struggled to a 73, failing to extend their advantage, Kofstad was grateful to capitalise.
“I’ve been playing really well for a long time but it hasn’t all come together yet,” said the Oslo player. “This course seems to suit me and the way I like to play. I like to hit the green and make par, and in the last few weeks the scoring has been pretty low, so it has been tough.
“But with no wind today the course was there for the taking and I’m happy I was able to take advantage of that today.
“I did well in Toulouse last year but I was a couple of shots back going into the final day. So this is a new experience and one I will try to enjoy. I’m sure I will be nervous, but that’s a good thing. It makes you feel alive and sharp.”
Kofstad’s fellow Scandinavian Kakko admitted he did not play his best, but was not surprised that level par was enough to stay in front.
“It’s a really tough course and there’s nothing wrong with shooting par round here,” he said. “It’s funny that sometimes when one person is struggling, the whole group struggles. That’s what happened today and we spent a lot of time looking for balls.
“There are many players capable of winning tomorrow, but the winner will have to go after it. I will have to play smart and aggressive at the same time, which will be difficult.”
Wilson has fallen a long way since playing in The 2008 Ryder Cup, finishing 130th in The 2011 Race to Dubai to lose his card and slipping to 475th in the Official World Golf Ranking. However, the 31 year old is determined to return to the top level, and he believes he has a chance of victory in Acaya if his putting improves.
“It was a really frustrating round but it turned out okay in the end,” he said. “I probably hit it as close as I’ve ever hit it, but just couldn’t hole any putts. I missed a few short ones on the front nine and felt like tearing my hair out.
“But I made a two-putt birdie at the 16th and then holed two six-footers for birdies at the last two holes. So it’s very pleasing in some ways that I’m hitting it so well, but on the other hand I left a lot of shots out there today. If I can hole a few putts tomorrow I should be in with a good chance.
“The Challenge Tour is obviously not where I want to be, but that’s how it is and I have to use it to make my way back to The European Tour. I’m lucky that I’m getting a few European Tour invitations as well, so I just need to take an opportunity somewhere.”