Eric Nel signed off with a pair of birdies at Irene Country Club to join Matt Bright at the top of the leaderboard after 36 holes at the Big Easy IGT Challenge Tour #14.The Centurion golfer picked up seven shots to post a second round four-under-par 68 to finish alongside Bright, who birdied the last hole for a 70 and a 36-hole total of nine-under 135.
Nel and Bright will take a slender one shot lead into the final round over Luke Brown and Dylan Kok - both winners on the IGT Challenge Tour this season - as well Gary Player School of 2018 member Derick Petersen.
Korea's DK Kim and Ulsterman John McClean tied for sixth on seven-under, with former Sunshine Tour winner Heinrich Bruiners a further shot back in joint eighth with Marthin Scheepers and last year's IGT Challenge Tour Money List winner Ruan Conradie.
Thabiso Ngcobo from the Gary Player School of 2018 fired seven birdies for a flawless 65 to claim the low round honour and rocket to a tie for 14th on four-under 140. Bright offset an early pair of bogeys at 14 and 15 with birdies at 10, 18, six and nine.
Nel bogeyed 11, 14 and 16, but birdies at 15, 17 and 18 took him back to level. Another brace of birdies at five and six saw the 21-year-old rookie dip two under par and he completed a flawless back nine with another pair of birdies at eight and nine to force his way into the lead.
'I played solid tee to green, but three wayward tee shots cost me three shots on my front nine,' said Nel. 'I leaked my tee shots right at 11 and 14 and couldn't up-and-down for par and the tee shot veered left at 16, leaving me with a tough up-and-down for par.
'I had chances at one, two and three, and I holed a 15-footer to save par at four, which gave me some confidence. At five and six, I hit two good drives followed by two good approaches that left me with putts inside 10 foot for birdie. I drained a 40-footer at eight birdie and hit a good approach into nine and two-putted for birdie,' Nel added.
The top 10 players will earn cards for the 2018/2019 Sunshine Tour after the Big Easy Tour Championship from 12-14 December.
Bright has virtually guaranteed his card at number one in the Race to Sunshine Tour. The business entrepreneur backed up successive victories in June and July with a fistful of top 10 finishes and banked more than R40K along the way.
Time is running out for Nel, though. Who has had a mixed bag of results this season, and a series of missed cuts sees him well back in the 40th spot in the standings. Nel must earn at least R20 000 in the last three events to break into the top 10 and victory on Wednesday would mean a R10 500 pay-day.
'The pressure is definitely on, but it's important to put that out of your mind in the final round,' Nel said. 'The key on Wednesday will be to take the round shot-for-shot and hole-by-hole and see where that leaves you when the final putt drops.
Second Round Scores
SA unless stated; amateurs AMA
135 - Eric Nel 67 68, Matt Bright 65 70
136 - Luke Brown 67 69, Dylan Kok 69 67, Derick Petersen 68 68
137 - DK Kim (KOR) 67 70, John McClean (NIR) 68 69
138 - Marthin Scheepers 66 72, Ruan Conradie 67 71, Heinrich Bruiners 71 67
139 - Jason Diab 69 70, Jason Rossiter 69 70, Louis Albertse 71 68