A fine third round in Belgium moved Tom McKibbin into the top-10 heading into the final day of the B-NL Challenge on the Challenge Tour.
The 19-year-old carded the second-best round of anybody in the field on Saturday as six birdies in a bogey-free 66 at Hulencourt in Genappe moved him up to 13-under-par for the tournament.
That has McKibbin in a share of ninth place and he will enter the fourth round four shots off leader Jeong weon Ko, who has a one-stroke advantage going into Sunday.
More importantly for the Galgorm teen, as well as being in touching distance of a potential first professional win, he is currently projected to move up three places in the Road to Mallorca standings to 15th, with further riches possible if he continues his upwards trajectory.
With the top-20 at the end of the season earning promotion to the DP World Tour next year, a big finish in Belgium would be a huge boost for McKibbin at a timely point in the campaign.
He will back himself to chase down Ko, whose third round 67 consisted of an eagle, five birdies and two bogeys to keep himself one shot clear of the chasing pack at 17-under-par.
The 24-year-old, who is also going in search of his first Challenge Tour win, is a shot clear of Germany’s Alexander Knappe, who shot a 66 to reach 16-under, with fellow countryman Allen John’s best round of the day 65 putting him tied third with South Africa’s Bryce Easton at 15-under.
“It was a quite difficult start today,” said France’s Ko.
“My wedges were not on point, so I had to make my birdies on the par five. I had some great opportunities on the back nine and managed to make some birdies there so I’m pretty happy with my round.
“I’m very confident in my game at the moment and every part is performing. The wind was different to the other day so I had to adjust my strategy but I still felt comfortable out there.
“I’m not going to focus on the leaderboard tomorrow I will just play my game, adopt the same approach as today and hopefully by the end of the day I will still be at the top.”
Meanwhile, a run of five consecutive birdies on his back nine led Kinsale’s John Murphy to a four-under 68 in his third round, and at 10-under-par he is in a share of 30th.
Three birdies and one bogey in a 70 has Portmarnock’s Conor Purcell a shot further back of Murphy, tied for 41st.