Kuala Lumpur - Lee Soo-Min of South Korea surprised even himself with a dazzling putting display on Saturday to snatch a three-stroke edge heading into the final round of the inaugural Maybank Championship Malaysia.
Lee shot a seven-under-par 64 to leapfrog 36-hole leader Nathan Holman of Australia and pre-tournament favourite Danny Willett of England.
Lee, 22, is now at 15-under par, three shots ahead of Marcus Fraser of Australia, who finished the day with a five-under 66 at the par-71 Royal Selangor Golf Club.
Playing in just his second European Tour event, Lee rolled in nine birdies, including four straight on the back nine when he insists he was merely trying to get it close, only to watch the putts drop.
"After making birdie, I gained more confidence and continued to make more birdies," he said.
If Lee can hold on Sunday to win the $3 million tournament, which is co-sanctioned by the European and Asian Tours, it would be his maiden triumph outside of South Korea.
While Lee thrived, the stifling 33-degree (91 Fahrenheit) heat seemed to sap other key contenders.
Holman, the recent Australian PGA champion, had established himself as the man to beat in Malaysia with an impressive tee-to-green game the first two days.
But the 24-year-old long-hitter struggled on Saturday, dropping four shots by the 11th.
A late surge brought Holman to within a stroke of Lee, but he stumbled into the clubhouse with a triple-bogey on 18 after sailing a fairway bunker shot into a pond.
He finished with a third-round 73 and goes into the final day four strokes behind Lee.
"I fell back but it's still a good position so I'm looking forward to tomorrow. Four shots on Sunday is not too many," Holman said.
Masahiro Kawamura of Japan, Miguel Tabuena of the Philippines, and Spain's Jorge Campillo were locked in a tie for fourth at 10-under.
Willett had entered as the field's highest-ranked player at world number 13, and was favoured following a victory two weeks ago in the Dubai Desert Classic and other strong recent finishes.
His fine play lately has catapulted him up golf's world rankings in recent months and a win in Malaysia would push him past Sweden's Henrik Stenson to first in the Race to Dubai rankings, according to the European Tour.
That may have to wait after he posted a disappointing two-over 73 on Saturday, leaving him nine shots off Lee's pace.
The tournament, which offers $500 000 to the winner, is the successor to the longtime Malaysian Open, which has been discontinued due to a sponsorship realignment.
Leading third-round scores on Saturday in the Maybank Championship Malaysia at the par-71 Royal Selangor Golf Club in Kuala Lumpur:
198 - Lee Soo-Min (KOR) 66-68-64
201 - Marcus Fraser (AUS) 66-69-66
202 - Nathan Holman (AUS) 64-65-73
203 - Masahiro Kawamura (JPN) 66-70-67, Miguel Tabuena (PHI) 66-68-69, Jorge Campillo (ESP) 65-69-69
204 - Julien Quesne (FRA) 70-69-65, Pablo Larrazabal (ESP) 70-69-65, Stephen Gallacher (SCO) 68-70-66, Mikko Ilonen (FIN) 71-69-64, Richard Bland (ENG) 66-65-73
205 - Romain Wattel (FRA) 68-70-67
206 - Plaphol Chawalit (THA) 69-68-69, Jbe Kruger (RSA) 74-67-65
207 - Prayad Marksaeng (THA) 71-68-68, Rahil Gangjee (IND) 68-72-67, Casey O'Toole (USA) 71-67-69, Lucas Bjerregaard (DEN) 70-67-70, Danny Willett (ENG) 65-69-73
208 - James Morrison (ENG) 68-71-69, Prom Meesawat (THA) 66-72-70, Gregory Havret (FRA) 70-67-71, KT Kim (KOR) 66-71-71, Chapchai Nirat (THA) 68-73-67