Richard McEvoy is on course to become the fourth Englishman in a row and seventh in total to win the SSE Scottish Hydro Challenge at Macdonald Spey Valley in Aviemore.
The 34-year-old moved to the top of the leaderboard after a third-round 67 on a testing day in the Highlands, where a decision to implement a two-tee start was vindicated.
The wind was gusting to around 20mph pretty much from the off before it started to get up to 30mph just as playing was finishing on the picturesque Dave Thomas-designed course.
McEvoy, who is playing in his first Challenge Tour event since the season’s finale in Oman in 2014, carded eight birdies, including four in the first six holes, as he moved to 11-under-par.
Bidding to claim a second Challenge Tour success 12 years after landing the Panasonic Panama Open, he leads by a shot from Swede Mikael Lundberg, with South African Erik Van Rooyen two further back in third.
Ayrshireman Jack McDonald is the leading Scot, sitting six shots behind McEvoy in joint-13th after he signed for a 70.
Sam Walker sparked England’s success in this event when he won the inaugural staging in 2006 at Macdonald Cardrona, where Robert Dinwiddie also triumphed the following year.
Walker then regained the title in Aviemore in 2012 while Andrew “Beef” Johnston, Jack Senior and James Heath have put the Cross of St George at the top of the leaderboard over the last three years.
“I’m actually rooming with James this week, so hopefully that’s an omen,” said a smiling McEvoy, who secured the final card at last year’s Qualifying School in Spain.
He recently finished fifth in the Lyoness Open in Austria on the European Tour but was fifth reserve for this week’s French Open and is unlikely to get in either the Irish Open or Scottish Open over the next two weeks.
“I decided to play here to try and keep competitve for when I get my next chance on the main Tour, which is likely to be the Porsche European Open in Germany,” said McEvoy, who played on the same 2001 Walker Cup team as Graeme McDowell, Luke Donald, Marc Warren and Nick Dougherty.
“I love this type of course as it’s about keeping the ball in play. It’s a positional golf course rather than smashing a driver as far as you can.
“I’ll be trying to win tomorrow as that’s why I came here. I’ll be a bit nervous but that’s okay as not being nervous in this position would mean you don’t care.”
Lundberg, who is nine years older than McEvoy, lost his overnight lead after he had to settle for a 71, having opened with rounds of 67 and 65.
“It was very tough today and I didn’t play as good as I had on the first two days,” said the Swede, a three-time winner on both the European Tour and the Challenge Tour.
“But you are not going to have four fantastic days so hopefully this is the one day that I am going to be slightly off this week.”
Van Rooyen, a 27-year-old, is breathing down the necks of the more experienced McEvoy and Lundberg after a 68 while six players are sitting on seven-under.
They include Spaniard Scott Fernandez, whose great grandmother was from Glasgow, and Richard James, the Welshman who’d set the pace after a 65 on Thursday.
Former Dunhill Links winner Michael Hoey is six shots off the lead after a 74 that included a quadruple-bogey 9 at the fifth, where he had two lost balls.
That disaster came in between two birdie-2s before he followed a run of 11 straight pars by dropping a shot at the last.
Defending champion Heath is also on five-under, as is McDonald after his one-under effort, which included a birdie at the last.
“I was quite solid apart from a couple of loose shots but managed to escape after them with pars,” said the 24-year-old, who is relishing next weekend’s Scottish Open qualifier at Barassie, his home course.
Jamie McLeary, the 2009 winner, is sitting joint-27th on three-under after a 69, but the five other Scots to survive the cut are all outside the top 50 heading into the final round.
Grant Forrest (72) and Jack Doherty (74) are tied for 53rd while James Ross (73) sits 60th, Scott Henry (74) is 66th and Danny Kay (76) lies 69th.