Peebles man Howie sits four shots off the lead, held by Italian Lorenzo Scalise, after carding a five-under 67 in the penultimate circuit, with Johnston, who hails from Dumfries, a shot further back following his adventurous 70.
“Yeah, it was an interesting one,” said Johnston of his day at Karnataka Golf Association. “I had it to five-under through 13, so I was delighted with that, especially after not feeling well all through last night and into this morning. To get out there and actually be playing well was quite good, but, yeah, a wee bit of a sore finish.”
That was in reference to dropping a shot at the par-5 15th then running up a double-bogey 6 at the 17th after encountering some tree trouble.
“I hit a driver down the right-hand side and I watched it hit the trees. But, when I got down there, the spotter said it hadn’t come down,” said the 30-year-old. “I spent three minutes looking for it in the trees so that I could drop it there but that was to no avail, so I had to go back to the tee.
“But I ended up making a really good up and down for my double then missed a good chance on the last. Yeah, two under is fine. It’s a ‘what could have been day’ but, at the same time, I’m glad to get finished because I didn’t feel good.”
Johnston is chasing a third win on the Challenge Tour, having made his breakthrough in the Kazakhstan Open in 2018 before adding the Emporda Challenge in Spain last year.
“My game feels great and it has done for the last year or so,” he said. “I’ve kind of been hit and miss with results and, yeah, it’s nice to be in contention again. I absolutely love that and it’s what you play the game for and I’m looking forward to Sunday.”
Howie, who won on the second-tier circuit in 2021, has started the new season on the second-tier circuit, having also made the cut in his three starts on the DP World Tour.
Euan Walker, the top Scot on the Challenge Tour last year, finished with a double-bogey 6 in his 69 to sit just outside the top 30 on six-under, two shots ahead of Michael Stewart (73).
Elsewhere, Ewen Ferguson sits just two shots off the lead heading into the final round of the DP World Tour’s Jonsson Workwear Open after finishing eagle-birdie-par for a 66 and a 15-under total at The Club at Steyn City in Johannesburg.
Germany’s Alexander Knappe fired a 65 to move into the lead, with a group of four players one behind including his compatriot Nick Bachem.
Meanwhile, David Drysdale made a big move in the third round of the Asian Tour’s World City Championship, covering the opening 14 holes in four-under to jump into a tie for 11th. However, the event at Hong Kong Golf Club, where four spots in the 151st Open are up for grabs, will now be decided over 54 holes due to inclement weather.