Just when Italian Giulia Sergas had the field at her mercy, fate dealt her a cruel hand and instead of taking an eight-shot lead into the final round of the Pegasus New Zealand Women’s Open tomorrow she will start four clear.

After 16 holes of the third round at the Pegasus course, Sergas had not dropped a shot and was five-under with her nearest rivals, including defending champion, Laura Davies, of England, eight shots back.

It was all smooth sailing until she hit a rough patch with her swing and she bogeyed the 17th and also the 18th after finding water off the tee and a fairway bunker with her second shot. In the end she did well to take bogey on the par-5 hole after being on the second cut of the fringe with her fourth and getting down in two putts.

Worst was to come, however. As she walking to the scorer’s tent she was advised she had been penalised a shot for slow play. The last group had lost ground, but there were a few wayward shots over the closing stages.

However, officials had warned the group about slow play earlier on the back nine.

“I’m upset about the decision,” Sergas said after taking time to control her emotions. They said I was a little too slow on the last hole and it could have been but it was really upsetting because I’m a really fast player and I got penalised for just one hole that went bad for me.’”

Sergas, who has yet to win in 11 years as a professional golfer, still has a healthy lead, but Davies, with 79 world-wide titles to her credit, is at nine-under and within a sniff, while on eight-under are three Europeans – Linda Wessenberg (Sweden), Cecilie Lundgreen (Norway), Diana Luna (Italy) and Australian Kristie Smith.

Lundgreen and Luna were sharp improvers, moving up 11 places after the day’s best round of five-under 67; Wessenberg had four birdies in five holes on the front nine to maintain her challenge and Smith, who was second overnight and two shots back from Sergas recovered well after dropping shots early on the front nine.

 Davies started strongly to be three-under at the turn, but it was a mixed bag on the back nine with four birdies, four bogeys and just the one par. Sergas said she was excited about tomorrow’s final 18 holes despite the late drama and was looking forward to playing alongside Davies.

“I just want to play golf and have fun. I played with Laura when I was leading the Australian Open last year (going into the third round) and she’s a very special lady to play with so that’s great.”