Jamie Donaldson of Wales was a shot clear heading into the final round of the Irish Open and on course Saturday for a first European Tour title in 254 attempts.
Rory McIlroy couldn't climb into contention on the third day at Royal Portrush, while France's Gregory Bourdy toppled from the top of the leaderboard with an 8-over 80.
Donaldson's 69 earned him the three-round lead on 12-under 204 despite his mixed round of an eagle, four birdies and three bogeys. He was one clear of England's Anthony Wall, with Ireland's Padraig Harrington and another Englishman, Mark Foster, another shot back on 10 under.
The No. 2-ranked McIlroy moved up 13 places to a tie for 11th with a 71, but still needs to make up six shots on the final day after parring every hole on the back nine.
McIlroy started with two birdies in his first three but bogeyed No. 5 and then ran off 13 straight pars to sit 6 under through 54 holes.
Bourdy went from a one-shot lead at the start of the round to eight behind with six bogeys, a double and a triple-bogey eight to tumble out of contention in a disastrous third round.
Inspired by a first career hole-in-one on Thursday, Donaldson was on course to break his title drought after recovering from a bogey on his first on Saturday to push just ahead of Wall, who is winless in 364 tour tournaments.
''I've had a few chances, but at the end of the day I've not been good enough so far to stand on the last green holding the trophy,'' said the 36-year-old Donaldson. ''You've got to keep trying and it's one shot at a time, one hole at a time.''
Harrington shot a 72 but the 2007 champion was still in contention just two back.
Graeme McDowell was eight behind and British Open champion Darren Clarke was nine off the pace at 3-under 213 two weeks ahead of his title defense at Royal Lytham and St. Annes.