Rafiq Ali, displaying immaculate form since the $300,000 Hero Honda Masters, where he finished a creditable fifth, shot a second successive round of four-under 68 and moved into pole position on the penultimate day of the Rs 1.6-million Surya Nepal Masters.
At the par-72 Gokarna Forest Golf Resort, Rafiq was eight-under 136, one clear of Digvijay Singh, who also added a 68 today for a two-day tally of seven-under 137.
Overnight leader Uttam Singh Mundy's putter lost steam and despite hitting 16 greens in regulations, could only manage a two-over 74.
That put him in tied third place along with Delhi's Pappan at five-under 139.
The cut was applied at 12-over 154 and 52 professionals made it to the money-making round on Sunday, the last day of the 54-hole tournament.
Deepak Acharya and Radhey Shyam Thapa were the best placed Nepal pros at one-over 145, tied for the 13th place.
Rafiq, who was struggling with his swing and illness even a week before Hero Honda Masters, a mega Asian PGA Tour event, looked like opening a huge lead before a couple of late bogies stopped his march. Six-under for the day with four holes to go, he made bogeys on the sixth and eighth to finish at 68.
"I hit the ball extremely well today," said the 32-year-old who has missed only two greens in regulation in 36 holes so far.
"I think I can win if I can keep up with this kind of form," said the Kolkata pro who twice missed holes-in-one today - on the 10th, where he was six inches from the pin, and on the fifth, where he was eight inches from the cup. He used 8-iron on both tees.
Digvijay made as many as eight birdies in his round of 68. However, two double bogeys on either half of his journey looked like ugly scars on an otherwise beautiful face. On the second, he lost his ball in the left jungle, while it took him two shots to come out of thick rough on the 14th hole. But he hit some dream approach shots, twice putting for birdies from less than four inches. His longest birdie putt was a 15-footer on the par-3 eighth.
"It was a bit up-and-down round for me. Apart from the double bogeys, I three-putted for par after driving the par-4 fourth green, and then missed a four-footer birdie putt on the 11th. But I am in a good position going into the final day and I will give it my best shot," said the 29-year-old Meerut pro, who represented India in the World Cup of Golf at Kiawah Island last week.
Scores (after 36 holes): 136 _ Rafiq Ali (68,68); 137 _ Digvijay Singh (69,68); 139 _ Pappan (70,69), Uttam Singh Mundy (65,74); 140 _ Rahul Ganapathy (74,66), Gaurav Ghei (68,72); 141 _ Mukesh Kumar (68,73); 142 _ Feroz Ali (71,71); 143 _ C Muniyappa (75,68), Rahil Gangjee (72,71); 144 _ Yusuf Ali (74,70), Shiv Prakash (67,77); 145 _ Suleiman Ali (74,71), Radhey Shyam Thapa (67,77), Deepak Acharya (69,76); 146 _ Shamim Khan (75,71), Zai Kipgen (75,71), Ali Sher (72,74), Ranjit Singh (72,74), Pritam Saikia (71,75); 147 _ Toran Shahi (70,77).