Hoey and Phelan must reel in "Fish"
 Michael Hoey is alone in second place in the Tshwane Open. Picture: David Lloyd /  www.golffile.ie

Michael Hoey is alone in second place in the Tshwane Open. Picture: David Lloyd / www.golffile.ie

Ross Fisher might be five shots ahead of Michael Hoey but many Irish eyes will be fixed on Waterford rookie Kevin Phelan and his bid to take a giant step towards retaining his card at the Tshwane Open.

Battling his way back into the world's elite after a fallow couple of years, 33-year old Fisher made seven birdies in a five under par 67 at Copperleaf Golf & Country Estate to lead on 18 under.

Hoey, who is seeking a sixth European Tour win, fired a three under 69 to join the former Ryder Cup star in the final group.

 Kevin Phelan lines up his putt on the last. Picture: David Lloyd /  www.golffile.ie

Kevin Phelan lines up his putt on the last. Picture: David Lloyd / www.golffile.ie

But it could also be a huge week for 23-year old Phelan, who shares fifth place on 11 under par after a 68 in an event where a third place finish is worth €103,800.

Phelan made his mark last year when he qualified for the US Open as an amateur for the second time and made the cut before going on to star in the Walker Cup and earn his card at the Q-School at the first attempt.

While he made the cut on his professional debut in the KLM Open in September, it's been a steep learning curve for Phelan on tour.

He made the cut and finished 24th in his first event of the 2014 season in the Alfed Dunhill Championship at Leopard Creek last December.

But has been idle ont he weekend in his last four European Tour starts and lies 150th in the Race to Dubai with earnings of just €15,300.

Last week, however, he played in the Dimension Data Pro-Am on the Sunshine Tour last week and came home 29th.  

Hoey made seven birdies in a row in Friday's second round to threatened the European Tour record but managed "just" six in all in the third round.

“My career best was on Thursday with five (birdies) in a row, and then yesterday I managed seven in a row, and today I had three on a row," Hoey said. "If it weren’t for the bogeys, I’d probably be tied with Ross Fisher. He will be hard to beat, but I’ll just keep doing my best."

Fisher revelled in the wet conditions and believes he is close to his best again.

"I feel like I'm playing as good as I ever have, probably similar to when I was contending in Majors and getting myself into the Ryder Cup team,” he said.

“If I were to win here it would be a massive confidence boost and a step in the right direction. My primary goal is to get back in the top 50 [of the Official World Golf Ranking] - I've been there before and I feel like I belong there.

 Shane Lowry pencilled in five birdies and three bogeys on his card. Picture: David Lloyd /  www.golffile.ie

Shane Lowry pencilled in five birdies and three bogeys on his card. Picture: David Lloyd / www.golffile.ie

"I got to 17 in the world because of my Major performances, but like a few other guys I had a big comedown after the Ryder Cup having achieved the second pinnacle of golf outside of winning a Major and so early in my career. Maybe I suffered a bit from Ryder Cupitis, as I called it.

"You see guys like Henrik Stenson who got to the top of the game, disappeared, came back, disappeared, and now he's back where he belongs.

“You see guys like that come through adversity, drift off and come back. Lee Westwood is another one — I wouldn't say my slump was anywhere near as drastic as theirs, but I've missed being in the top 50 and playing in the Majors and that's where I want to be. Hopefully this is a step in the right direction for me.”

Shane Lowry is tied for 23rd on seven under after a 70 and set to make his first cheque of the 2014 season following three missed cuts during the Desert Swing.