Eddie Pepperell remained in control of the Sky Sports British Masters as a resolute third-round 71 kept him three strokes clear of the field at Walton Heath.
Pepperell led by three overnight and his advantage was never cut to less than two on another tough day for scoring at the historic Surrey layout, his third round featuring an eagle – one of three from the final group at the 11th – two birdies and a pair of bogeys.
Playing-partner Jordan Smith lipped out for birdie on the final green as he carded a 70 to end the day in a share of second place, but Matt Wallace’s hopes of clinching a fourth victory of an outstanding season took a hit as he fired an erratic 73 to slip five off the pace.
Pepperell was content to grind out the pars and avoid slipping back towards the chasing pack, although he did drop an early shot at the third only to hit back immediately when he holed from 15 feet to restore parity on the next green.
The 27-year-old continued his conservative tactics in a run of six consecutive pars, which he broke on the long 11th when he and his playing partners all made eagles.
After the final group each found the putting surface in two, Wallace rolled in a 20-foot putt for a three, Pepperell followed him in from 15 feet before Smith rounded off the rare feat of a threeball all making eagle at the same hole.
Pepperell gave one of those shots back when he needed three putts to get down from long range at the 12th, while Smith birdied to get himself back to within three of the leader.
But Pepperell remained unfazed and parred safely in to stay at nine under par, while Smith offset another birdie at the 15th with his fourth bogey of the day at 16 when he was unable to get up-and-down from short of the green.
Smith’s mistake saw him drop back into the large group of players on six under, which included Alexander Bjork after the Swede rallied from an early double-bogey six at the third with six birdies – four in a row from the 10th – in an impressive 68.
Bjork soon had company as clubhouse leader when Julian Suri, who also double-bogeyed the third, fought back to salvage a 69, while Julien Guerrier continued his solid challenge with a three-birdie 70, completing 54 holes with only four blemishes on his card.
Wallace’s mixed-bag of a 73 contained an eagle and three birdies but also six dropped shots as he slid to four under alongside Andrea Pavan, whose best-of-the-day 67 was also the only bogey-free round on the day.
Ryder Cup star Tommy Fleetwood bounced back from his second-round 77 with a four-birdie 70 which hauled him back to two under par, while tournament host Justin Rose is one shot further adrift after he enjoyed his best round of the tournament – reeling off three birdies in four holes around the turn and going on to complete a 69.
Fleetwood looks certain to shave a few euros off the deficit between himself and Ryder Cup partner Francesco Molinari at the top of the Race to Dubai standings, with the Italian looking fatigued from his heroics at Le Golf National as he slumped to five over.
The Open champion finished poorly as he ran up a triple-bogey seven at the eighth and dropped another shot at nine after starting with three consecutive birdies from the 10th, which he gave back with three bogeys between the 15th and 18th. He ended the day seven behind Fleetwood – his closest challenger in the race to be crowned European No 1.