Christiaan Maas will take a slender one-shot advantage into the final round of the Brabazon Trophy after the young South African once again showed his prowess on the greens.
A third round 67 took the 18-year-old from Pretoria to -11 for the championship – a shot clear of Arron Edwards-Hill and three ahead of defending champion Sam Bairstow.
Edwards-Hill matched Maas’ score while Bairstow knocked it round in 69 to keep alive his hopes of becoming the first player since Neil Raymond in 2012 to win back-to-back titles.
The two Englishmen will need to be firing on all cylinders in Sunday’s final round if they are to outscore the talented teen.
In 54 holes, Maas has racked up an astonishing 20 birdies and has played all week with a smile on his face and a spring in his step.
On Friday, Maas sprayed the ball around a bit. At a sun-drenched Saunton on Saturday, his approach play was perfection.
“Today was good. I’m proud of how I played,” he said with quiet satisfaction.
“I hit all 18 greens so if I continue that tomorrow I have a good chance”
“Today was better. I started with a three-putt having made myself completely dead on the first hole. I left an impossible putt.
“After that I hit solid shots, kind of safe, and then made a few putts on the back nine.”
And on his birdie blitz around a tough links course, Maas added: “Back home you make a lot of birdies. I didn’t think I would do it on this course, though.
“It’s nice to see that I’m making a lot of birdies on this course. It gives me a lot of confidence.
“Tomorrow I’ll play the same as today and try not to make any mistakes, put myself in good spots and hopefully make some putts.”
Maas played his third round alongside Bairstow and only a fool would write off the defending champion’s chances even though he’s three shots back.
Four birdies and two dropped shots accounted for his score of 69 and he remains right in the hunt in what promises to be a Sunday shootout.
Edwards-Hill will be in the final pairing with Maas tomorrow and will relish the chance to try and claim one of amateur golf’s biggest titles.
“I’ve never played with Christiaan. I’ve heard he’s a good player but I’ll just play my own game and see what happens,” he added.
The Essex golfer made a fast start to his third round – holing his second shot at the opening hole for a rare eagle.
“I hit a nice drive down the middle and had 137 in,” said the Englishman.
“It was a 9-iron and I pushed it a little bit. The pin was in a bowl and lucky enough I got up there, didn’t see it go in, but it was in the hole.”
The England men’s squad player actually managed three ‘magic twos’ in his round – holing birdie putts on the fifth and 13th holes.
“I’d say I’ve done it before but only on par threes,” said Edwards-Hill.
“But I’ve never had three of them with one being on a par four! It was good to play the par threes well today as I hadn’t played them that well on Friday.”
Earlier this season, the Englishman won the Azata Championship on Spain’s Toro Tour – a professional event – so he knows how to seal the deal.
That experience could be crucial tomorrow if it gets edgy on the back-nine.
“To win that pro event in Spain was great,” confirmed Edwards-Hill for whom patience will be the watchword in the final round.
“If the start doesn’t go too well, just grind, stick to my gameplan and the clubs I hit off the tees, play my own game and let the result take care of itself.”
It was a good day also for Ireland’s Matt McClean – the golfer from the Malone club on the outskirts of Belfast – posting a four under par round of 67 to climb up the leaderboard into fourth spot.
It will take a Herculean effort from McClean to catch the leader on Sunday, but he can afford to freewheel and take his chances.
South Africa’s Kyle de Beer jumped up to fifth spot thanks to the best round of the day – a five-under par 66.
And John Gough – the reigning English Men’s Amateur champion – continued his fightback with a round of 67 to follow a 68 on Friday.
Meanwhile, in the battle to win the George Henriques Salver – awarded to the leading GB&I golfer under the age of 20 – Tomi Bowen (-1) from Welshpool leads by four shots from Hagley’s Hugh Adams (+3).