Branden Grace of South Africa (right) h with his caddie and compatriot Zack Rasego.

South African Branden Grace burst into contention for his third title of a dream debut season on the European Tour with a sparkling third round eight-under-par 64 at the $3 million China Open on Saturday.

Grace was one of six players to hold the lead on a hectic day at Tianjin's Binhai Lake Golf Club and the 23-year-old finished the day with a three-stroke lead at 198 (18 under) in the event co-sanctioned by the OneAsia Tour.

Defending champion Nicolas Colsaerts was second after the Belgian carded a 66 while Paraguay's Fabrizio Zanotti was third a further shot back on 14-under after a 64.

After coming through qualifying school, Grace won back-to-back titles on home soil and is in prime position to win in China thanks to some solid putting.

“This year the putting has really been standing out and I'm making a lot more putts,” he said. “I'm really positive at this stage and getting those first two wins under my belt is great, I just want to really push on from here.”

Grace chipped to within a foot at the second hole and holed a putt from the fringe at the fifth for early birdies before hitting the front with a 20-foot eagle putt at the sixth.

He three-putted the 14th for his only bogey but more than made up for it by sinking three birdies in the final four holes to race ahead.

Britain's Ian Poulter was well off the pace, 14 strokes behind Grace. – Reuters