Greater Noida: Gaganjeet Bhullar was in the hunt for a top-five finish but an Indian winner looks unlikely at the Avantha Masters where South African debutant Thomas Aiken became an unlikely sole leader with a stunning card of 10-under 62 in the third and penultimate round of the USD 2.3 million golf event on Saturday.
Bhullar's five-under 67 was the best performance by an Indian today and his five birdies -- two on the front and three on the back-nine -- fetched him a share of the eighth position with a three-day total of 12-under 204.
"It was much better than previous two days. I have been hitting the ball consistently well, and even finding a lot of greens. I had a lot of greens in regulation. It was 17 yesterday and again 17 today. I missed only one green in regulation today. But the putts have not fallen," Bhullar said of his game so far.
"However, it was better today as compared to the first two days. Hopefully it will get even better tomorrow. But the positive I am taking from today's round is that I had no bogeys. Anytime you shoot four-five birdies and no bogeys it feels good.
"Today on the eighth, I had a superb 40-50 footer for birdie and then on the par-five 15th, I was sitting on six-foot eagle, but I just missed it closely. Overall I am looking to having a good final day and do better," he added.
Also in contention for a good finish at the richest golf event in India is the seasoned Jeev Milkha Singh.
The Chandigarh-pro, who signed off tied 43rd last year, looks good enough to better that performance after a three-under 69, comprising six birdies and three bogeys, left him tied 17th with a total of 10-under 206.
Jeev was not quite happy with the way things panned out today blaming the three bogeys on aggression.
"I am getting the birdies alright, but I am also dropping too many bogeys. In three days I have dropped eight bogeys and that's just too much. I had as many as six birdies today, but I gave back three of them," he said.
"On the first day, seven birdies and I dropped three bogeys. So, that tells you the story. Maybe, I am getting very aggressive on this course. But that's also what is required because the course is there for the taking. Every now and then someone is going really deep and low," Jeev said.
"I should give myself more chances because I am putting quite alright. On this course, even a five-shot lead won't be safe and I am going to be aggressive once again on the final day," he asserted.
The USD 2.3 million event, tri-sanctioned by the European Tour, the Asian Tour and the Professional Golf Tour of India, has had a new leader everyday and today it was Aiken's turn to turn the spotlight on himself.
Aiken could not have asked for better results on his maiden trip to India as he signed the best card of the day to take a three-stroke lead.
The 29-year-old, who experimented with rugby, cricket and tennis before turning to golf after being enamoured by the scenic beauty of courses, produced his second bogey-free card of the week.
With a three-day total of 15-under 198, he has a good chance of becoming the second successive South African, after Jbe Kruger, to lift the trophy at the Greg Norman-designed Jaypee Greens Golf Course here.
Starting the day four shots off the lead, Aiken just zoomed up the leaderboard with a six-under front-nine which included four birdies and a stunning eagle on the par-five second.
He was tied for the top spot with Kiradech Aphibarnat (66) when the Thai eagled the 12th hole but broke away from the pack after picking four shots in a fantastic back-nine.
"I concentrated very hard today on just playing one shot at a time and staying in the present, and it seemed to work out well for me. I didn't get ahead of myself at all, and it just goes to show what can be achieved if your mindset and concentration are right," he said.
"It can be very tricky out there, especially if you don't find the fairways. On the last hole, I got a real flier out of the semi rough and flew the green. It went 162 yards, and I normally hit that club around 126 yards. So that's quite a big difference. Plus the greens are getting really firm, so they're not really holding your approach shots at all," Aiken added.
Australian Scott Hend looked like challenging him in the front-nine by striking four birdies but a double-bogey on the 16th hole derailed his march. Hend was five shots off the pace at tied fifth with a card of four-under 68.
The second position was shared by Scot David Drysdale (66) and overnight leader Liang Wen-chong (69) of China.
Among other Indians in fray, Jyoti Randhawa lay tied 32nd after an improved four-under 68 left his three-day total at eight-under 208.
A stroke ahead of him was Rahil Gangjee. Gangjee, who was overnight tied seventh, tumbled down after returning an eventful even-par72. Joining him there was Anirban Lahiri (70).
PGTI Emerging Player of the Year, Abhijit Chadha, let it slip in the back-nine to end the day at two-over. His total of seven-under 209 fetched him a share of the 37th position.
Further down the leaderboard, former champion SSP Chowrasia was tied for 68th after playing out a nightmarish round in which he stumbled to two double-bogeys, a bogey against three back-to-back birdies. Chowrasia was two-under overall after going over-par for the first time this week with a 74.