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Saturday, 28 January 2012
Robert Rock   (Getty Images)
Robert Rock (Getty Images)
Tiger Woods was ideally placed to put down a huge marker for the season after charging into a share of the lead with Robert Rock ahead of the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship.

Having ended 2011 with his first victory for over two years, Woods has a great chance to start 2012 with another.

Thanks to a superb bogey-free display, the 14-time Major winner is on 11 under par and tied with England's Rock, who ensured it was not all about the American when he birdied the final two holes for a matching 66.

They are two in front of four Ryder Cup players - Scot Paul Lawrie, Swede Peter Hanson, Italian Francesco Molinari and Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy.

McIlroy, the 22 year old US Open Champion, would of course be sharing top spot if he had not incurred his two stroke penalty for brushing sand away off the ninth green in his second round, but a 68 kept him firmly in the hunt.

Woods joked that "it will be nice to get rid of him" after playing with McIlroy three days in a row - and also for nine holes of practice.

Delighted though he was with his position, the former World Number One was not inclined to scream "I'm back" afterwards.

Instead Woods said: "I was just kind of consistent. I didn't do a whole lot wrong, I didn't do a whole lot right.

"Six birdies piled up, but I was methodically going about my business and grinding.

"This course is playing difficult enough. You can make birdies, but you can go the wrong way quickly. I've still got to post a good number."

There were an amazing 24 changes at the top of the leaderboard during the day and at one point eight players were locked together.

Woods made himself the man to catch, however, when he followed his front nine of 34 with further birdies on the tenth, 12th and 14th.

Another came when he found the green in two and two-putted the 567 yard last, but Rock fired in an approach to five feet on the 17th and closed with an eight footer.

The 34 year old's only European Tour victory in well over 200 starts came at the BMW Italian Open last season.

He admitted he was thinking about the possibility of playing the final round with Woods as he entered the finishing stretch.

Less than a decade ago Rock was working at the Swingers Golf Centre in Lichfield, near Birmingham.

"[I was] selling Mars bars, chatting to my mates, watching him (Woods) winning Majors," he said.

"I was keeping an eye on the leaderboard wondering if I had a chance to play with him.

"It's cool - I can't wait. Maybe not many opportunities will come my way."

McIlroy said: "I've seen up close how Tiger is playing and I feel if I play my best I've got a great chance.

"It will be a bit different not playing with him. Tiger will bring most of the crowd and maybe I can go quietly about my business."

Hanson had a best-of-the-week 64, Molinari had a 66 and Lawrie a 68 as he continued to enjoy himself in the desert. Last month the former Open Champion, now 43, was runner-up to Alvaro Quiros at the Dubai World Championship presented by DP World.

World Number One Luke Donald managed only a 73 after setting off with three birdies in four holes and now finds himself down in joint 55th place on level par.

Among those who overtook him was second-ranked Lee Westwood, whose 68 came a day after he was struggling with a neck problem.

Halfway leader Thorbjørn Olesen's 71 dropped him into a tie for seventh, while Padraig Harrington found that, like the England cricket team just up the road, a score of 72 was no good. It dropped the Irishman from 11th to 27th.

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