Els, the most potent force to come out of the Transvaal since the Transvaal XV, followed his opening rounds of 66 with a 71 and was surprised to find that nobody, at least from the higher echelons on the leaderboard, had closed the gap.
However, Bernhard Langer, the defending champion, had a 67, the best joint score of the day, to move within striking distance.
Twelve months ago Langer won the championship with an aggregate of 274, 14 under par and a 68 today would equal that.
'Last year I had a lot of good breaks,' Langer said. 'So much so that some players said they wanted to attend my bible study classes.'
Langer raised his eyes towards the heavens at the 15th in the third round when a four-foot putt for par horse-shoed around the hole, stayed out and then choked, in mid-throat, whatever curses the German was about to issue, by dropping into the hole.
Langer had already three-putted the fourth and had backed off that indecisive putt at the 15th. His touch today will have to be at its most assured if he is to tackle Els, of whom he said: 'Ernie looks like one of the future stars. He has a very good build for a golfer and great rhythm. He has a good head on his shoulders and he does not seem to get upset like some others.
'He is certainly one of the brighter prospects anywhere in the world. Basically he's got it all. A long hitter, great rhythm. He doesn't get upset like some youngsters. Perhaps he needs a little more consistency, a little more experience.'
Els, who has won everything there is to win in South Africa, does not give the impression of being a hesitant frontrunner.
At the beginning of the season he ran away with the Desert Classic in Dubai, finishing six strokes in front of the second-placed Greg Norman. He threw in a 61 during the course of what was his maiden victory on the European Tour and although Wentworth in May, or any other month come to that, bears no relation to the Emirates course in the Persian Gulf, Els is a man for all seasons.
He was in trouble at the seventh where he had a double-bogey six after flying the green with a shot that was so misjudged he said it cleared the gallery. It did not. It hit a young scoreboard operator on the leg. However, the par fives were virtually gifts to him. With Langer at 10 under are the Spaniards Miguel Angel Jimenez and Jose-Maria Olazabal.
'My putting stroke let me down,' Olazabal said. He thinks that to catch Els he would have to score 66 in the final round. Nick Faldo, whose putting has been driving him crazy, was resigned to a new philosophy: 'Be happy and just enjoy it.' He showed no signs of it.
Earlier in the week Charles Hunter-Pease, managing director of Volvo, issued a statement which began: 'After seven years you would think the Volvo PGA Championship would be seen as familiar, safe and somewhat taken for granted. Nothing, however, could be further from the truth . . . it still creates a substantial buzz.'
His remarks could not have been closer to the truth yesterday when there was a 'shooting' incident at the 17th hole.
John Paramor, the tournament director, was hit in the right leg and a spectator was shot in the thigh. Police were called and two youngsters, armed with target guns which fire small plastic pellets, were questioned. 'As far as I am concerned I will be leaving their parents to deal with them,' Paramor said.
Seve Ballesteros also had a painful experience at the 17th and in the final reckoning today it could have a significant bearing on his hopes of finishing in the top two of the Order of Merit, thereby qualifying for the US Open.
Ballesteros is currently in second place but he could be overtaken by Els and Olazabal. After making three birdies in five holes from the turn, Ballesteros lost his drive into the trees on the right at the 17th and with a second ball made six. A birdie at the last, which is almost obligatory for those in the hunt, gave him a round of 70, six strokes behind Els. 'Even Seve's not out of it,' the young South African said.
SCORES FROM WENTWORTH
VOLVO PGA CHAMPIONSHIP Third-round scores (GB or Irl unless stated): 203 E Els (SA) 66 66 71. 206 B Langer (Ger) 69 70 67; J M Olazabal (Sp) 67 68 71; M A Jimenez (Sp) 68 66 72. 208 F Nobilo (NZ) 73 66 69; J Haeggman (Swe) 69 69 70; A Hunter 71 65 72. 209 M Roe 71 70 68; E Romero (Arg) 69 72 68; M Lanner (Swe) 70 70 69; A Lyle 68 71 70; G J Brand 70 69 70; S Ballesteros (Sp) 73 66 70; P Hedblom (Swe) 69 69 71; C Rocca (It) 67 70 72. 210 P Lawrie 69 70 71. 211 J Lomas 74 68 69; R Rafferty 68 73 70; V Singh (Fiji) 72 69 70; M James 68 72 71. 212 L Westwood 75 70 67; M Mackenzie 73 70 69; S Grappasonni (It) 72 71 69; H Clark 73 69 70; N Faldo 72 70 70. 213 J Rivero (Sp) 72 72 69; W Riley (Aus) 68 76 69; K Stables 71 71 71; B Lane 70 70 73; P Baker 73 67 73; P Fulke (Swe) 72 67 74. 214 P Mitchell 72 72 70; A Binaghi (It) 72 71 71; S Ames (Trin) 73
69 72; D R Jones 69 71 74; A Forsbrand (Swe) 69 70 75. 215 D Smyth 74 71 70; R Goosen (SA) 72 73 70; M McLean 75 70 70; J Payne 71 74 70; P Walton 76 68 71; P Way 72 72 71; V Fernandez (Arg) 73 71 71; J Coceres (Arg) 71 72 72; M Clayton (Aus) 70 73 72. 216 M A Martin (Sp) 71 74 71; D Gilford 71 74 71; D Jones 70 74 72; C O'Connor Jnr 71 72 73; D A Russell 72 71 73; G Brand Jnr 69 74 73. 217 J Rystrom (Swe) 76 69 72; J Bland (SA) 72 73 72; T Levet (Fr) 71 73 73; P Curry 70 74 73; G Evans 74 69 74; R Davis (Aus) 70 73 74; R Allenby (Aus) 71 71 75; A Oldcorn 75 67 75; P Teravainen (US) 70 69 78. 218 R Drummond 73 72 73; D Curry 72 73 73; R Boxall 70 74 74; C Montgomerie 74 69 75. 219 S Bowman (US) 72 71 76. 220 M Gates 73 71 76; J McHenry 71 73 76.Reuse content