Eddie Pepperell will take a three-shot lead into the final day of the British Masters as he seeks the second European Tour title of his career – and with it a different Masters appearance next April.
Pepperell carded a third round of 71 at Walton Heath to finish nine under par, with fellow Englishman Jordan Smith, Sweden’s Alexander Bjork, American Julian Suri and France’s Julien Guerrier all six under.
A victory on Sunday would take Pepperell into the world’s top 35 and almost certainly secure a Masters debut in 2019. The top 50 at the end of the year are guaranteed a place in the first major of the year at Augusta National in April.
The 27-year-old from Oxford began the day with a three-shot lead and was four clear when he holed from 14 feet for an eagle on the par-five 11th, with playing partners Smith and Matt Wallace remarkably also doing likewise.
Smith also birdied the 12th after Pepperell three-putted and another birdie on the 15th took Smith within two shots of the lead, only for him to immediately drop a shot on the next.
Pepperell was ranked outside the world’s top 500 as recently as May last year, but won his maiden European Tour title in Qatar in February and followed a runners-up finish in the Scottish Open with a tie for sixth in the Open seven days later, carding a closing 67 at Carnoustie despite being hungover.
“I remember feeling really comfortable with the lead in Qatar and I felt comfortable out there today,” Pepperell said. “I didn’t see any shots that frightened me and it’s about time I kicked on and won another event.
“It would have been nice to have holed a few putts on the back nine and gave myself more of a lead, but I’m confident I can shoot three or four under on Sunday and make everyone else’s life more difficult.”
Asked about the prospect of winning a prestigious title on home soil, Pepperell added: “When you are leading any golf tournament it’s pretty special but I’m having a hard time distinguishing this one from any other because I’m so immersed in the event.
“But ask me that in 24 hours when hopefully I will have the trophy and I’ll be ecstatic.”
Ryder Cup star Tommy Fleetwood is seven shots off the pace after rebounding from a 77 on Friday with a 70, while team-mate and tournament host Justin Rose is another stroke adrift following a 69.
A top-two finish on Sunday would see Rose reach the top of the world rankings for the second time this season, the 38-year-old having spent two weeks as number one in September.
“That hasn’t actually been on my mind,” Rose said. “It’s going to be tough to get there as I’ve got a lot of points to defend, but I’ve just got to focus on playing well.
“I got there with it being a by-product of good play and I’m going to have to get back there the same way. You can’t force it.”