Ian Poulter has not won a tournament in five years
Poulter hit a one-under-par 71 to move top of the leaderboard alongside compatriot Callum Shinkwin and Australian Andrew Dodt on nine under par.
Another Englishman, Andrew Sullivan, was on seven under, one shot clear of Sweden’s Johan Carlsson, Ireland’s Paul Dunne and New Zealand’s Ryan Fox.
Only five shots separated the top 17 players after a difficult day in which driving wind and rain made for extremely testing conditions.
“The 12th was as tough as I have seen in terms of wind and rain. They were brutally tough conditions,” Poulter said. “I just had to hang in there.”
England's Callum Shinkwin also shares a hold of the lead
Joint overnight leader Padraig Harrington was the main casualty with a 79, including six bogeys and a double- bogey, which dropped him back to two under.
Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell fired a 68 to move to five under.
For players who have not qualified for this week’s Open Championship at Royal Birkdale, three places are available with a top- 10 finish.
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10. Gary Player – $15m (on course: N/A, off course: $15m)
Poulter will be hoping to go one better than on his previous visit to the Merseyside links.
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The 41-year-old scored his best Open finish when he was runner-up to Harrington in 2008.