Tapio Pulkkanen carded a bogey-free 64 to take a one-shot lead into the weekend at the Joburg Open.
The Finn is playing his first full season on the European Tour after winning the 2017 Challenge Tour but looked very much at home in Johannesburg as he got to 14 under and established a narrow advantage over India's Shubhankar Sharma.
As well as playing for the trophy this week, there are three places on offer at the 2018 Open, with the top three players not already exempt earning a place at Carnoustie.
Pulkkanen opened with a 65 on the Bushwillow Course and started his round on the Firethorn Course with six birdies before adding two more on the 11th and 12th.
"I'm really happy with my game," Pulkkanen told europeantour.com. "I've been driving the ball really well, especially today, it's a fantastic feeling.
"It was a good start to my round with six birdies in a row. The putter has been really hot, I practised my aiming a little before the tournament and it's been much better this week.
"Leading a European Tour event so early on in my season sounds more magnificent than it really is. It's a similar feeling to the Challenge Tour actually, so I'm comfortable."
Sharma fired an excellent 61 on the Bushwillow Course to get to 13 under, a shot ahead of Finland's Mikko Korhonen and South African Erik van Rooyen.
Ireland's only competitor Gavin Moynihan missed the cut in a crowded field despite carding a two under par 69 on the Bushwillow Course on Friday.
The round left the Dubliner on two under par for the tournament and in a tie for 99th place, two shots off the standard needed to reach the weekend.
Moynihan tweeted afterwards that it wasn't the finish he wanted to 2017 but said he'd had a great year overall.
That's my 2017 over. Not the 2 weeks I wanted but a great year overall. Starting the year with no category anywhere and to finish it with a European tour card is great. Huge thanks goes to @teamirelandgolf @TeamISM @OCHdublin @Arena_Group @TitleistEurope @mountjuliet 👍— Gavin Moynihan (@GavinMoynihan) December 8, 2017
The field will now all play the Firethorn Course over the weekend.