A two-over-par 74 saw Shane Lowry drop off the pace on moving day at the Nedbank Golf Challenge hosted by Gary Player.
The Clara professional had started the day well with a birdie at the par-5 second but he failed to get anything going thereafter, dropping three shots on the way home.
Lowry dropped seven places down the leaderboard into a share of 11th spot on two-under-par for his efforts but will hope to finish strong tomorrow to put another solid week on the board.
As for Rory McIlroy, it was a typical tale of too many mistakes for the Holywood star today. Successive bogeys over his opening two holes threatened a disaster but McIlroy managed to grind out a one-over-par 73 despite the start.
The four-time Major champion finds himself in a share of 20th spot on even par for the tournament.
Meanwhile Padraig Harrington lost a few places after a 74 this morning resigned him to a tie for 44th on plus four while Paul Dunne’s level par round saw him remain on five-over-par in a share of 53rd.
At the summit, Sergio Garcia fired a 71 on day three to open up a two-shot lead as he looks for a wire-to-wire victory in the seventh Rolex Series event of the season.
The Spaniard led by four after round one but fellow Major Champion Louis Oosthuizen cut that to one shot after 36 holes and the South African will be the nearest challenger heading into Sunday at Gary Player Country Club.
The 38-year-old will enter the final day at ten under as he looks to make it back-to-back wins after triumphing at the Andalucía Valderrama Masters hosted by his own foundation, with Oosthuizen carding a 72 to sit in second.
Garcia has nine wins from his previous 14 54-hole leads on the European Tour and would be the second wire-to-wire winner of the season after Eddie Pepperell at the Sky Sports British Masters.
A victory would be Garcia’s second wire-to-wire win in the last two seasons and his third triumph at Gary Player Country Club after winning this event in 2001 and 2003 before it joined the European Tour International Schedule.
“I thought it was pretty good,” reflected Sergio. “The course is playing tough. It’s playing difficult, but I felt like probably I didn’t get much out of my round. I felt like I was quite consistent.
“Maybe I could have been a little bit more aggressive hitting a couple shots here and there but I gave myself a good amount of chances. Unfortunately, the putts didn’t want to drop but at the end of the day, shooting under par, still in the lead, I’m happy with that.
“I’m just going to keep trying to do the same thing. I know the course is going to be playing tough again. I’m going to go out and try to shoot under par like I’ve done all three days. I think if I can manage to shoot somewhere in the 60s, maybe 70 might be enough.
“It would be great. Winning any tournament, it’s always amazing, but winning here, a Rolex Series Event, obviously extra special. It would be really nice, and you know, we’re going to try to do that.”
Belgian Thomas Detry, Finn Mikko Korhonen and England’s Lee Westwood were then at seven under, a shot clear of another Englishman in Ross Fisher, who mounted a remarkable comeback with a 67 after dropping eight shots in his last four holes on Friday.
“I’ve always enjoyed putting on these greens,” said Westwood. “A lot of imagination on them. Sometimes you get some big breaking putts. It reminds me in a little way of Augusta the way you have to tackle it. You have to play away from pins and sometimes you have putts that you don’t want or leave in a spot where you can’t get it up-and-down.
“I’m always excited when I’m in contention. It’s always lovely being in the last couple of groups in this tournament, the crowds are always very enthusiastic and given me a lot of support.”
Local favourite Darren Fichardt carded a 67 to sit at four under, a shot clear of fellow South African Dean Burmester and French duo Benjamin Hebert and Mike Lorenzo-Vera.
In the quest to stay in the hunt for the Race to Dubai next week, Li Haotong and Lucas Bjerregaard both need a win but were ten and 14 shots back respectively, while Rory McIlroy – who needs a top-two finish – was at level par.