Tiger Woods stuttered and for a while even threatened to stumble, but the World Number One eventually regained his composure to maintain his position at the top of the leaderboard after the third round of the Dubai Desert Classic.
At the end of an intriguing day’s play at the Emirates Golf Club, the American led the way on 20 under par 196 after his third round 68, one shot clear of Denmark’s Thomas Björn who posted a 67. In third place was Ireland’s Padraig Harrington who carded an excellent 64 for a 17 under par total of 199, one shot clear of India’s Jeev Milkha Singh, who recovered well for a 67.
After setting a new low 36 hole record in the second round, Woods continued to alter the history books, his 20 under par total of 196 being a new record low score for 54 holes in the tournament, beating the previous best of 197 set by Ernie Els in 1994.
But, after flawless 64s in the first two rounds, Woods eventually showed he was human around the turn in his third round, dropping shots at the eighth, the tenth and the 12th to hand Björn the overall lead in the tournament.
Worst error came on the 549 yard tenth hole where Woods stood over a three foot putt for a birdie four but proceeded to miss it as well as the two and a half foot putt return putt for par. The 25 year old American went on to bogey the 12th too, but showed his pedigree with a bold recovery, birdieing the 13th, 15th, 17th and 18th to eventually come home in style.
“It wasn’t one of my easier rounds,” he admitted. “I hit the ball well starting out and made a couple of good putts but hit a couple of squirty ones in the middle of the round. I didn’t hit solid putts but I got it back and made a couple of birdies at the end.
“I’ve had a four putt before, several I guess, but I only had a three putt today on the tenth. I suppose it looked like a four putt because I stayed on the green for a while! The first putt I pulled, the second I shoved but the third one I hit really good right in the middle – from six inches!
“That’s the way it goes sometimes and it’s part of playing the game. You can understand that just as easily as anyone else who plays golf. It does happen but I was proud of the way I came back. That’s what you have to be able to do sometimes, because the game of golf can be fickle.”
While Woods made bogeys, Björn produced a flawless round of 67 although the Dane admitted he should have had a greater return than the five birdies he eventually ended up with.
“When you hit the ball that well off the tee you need to take advantage of it. No question 67 is a good score but where I was in the middle of the fairways, it’s probably not the best I could have done,” he said.
“I’m quite happy the way the day turned out but I expected more from myself when I started out and I’m sure Tiger did as well this morning. But in general we’re both up there and still ahead and we just need to get off to a start in the final round and see if it turns into a battle.
“I do need to go out and shoot a really good number because we all know that he (Tiger) tends to step it up a little bit on Sundays. So I think for me, Padraig, and all the other guys who are right behind, we certainly need to do something special.”
Harrington, who finished runner-up to Vijay Singh in the Carlsberg Malaysian Open a fortnight ago and tied fifth last week in the Caltex Singapore Masters, continued his excellent early season form with a superb third round 64, a round which featured seven birdies and an eagle and only one dropped shot at the short 11th where his tee shot missed the green to the right and he failed to get up and down.
The Irishman admitted he was surprised to be only three shots off the pace at the end of the day although he was realistic about what he still needed to do.
“I’m in the frame obviously but it will take another score at least like what I’ve done today to win. Obviously I’m capable of doing that because I did it today, so we’ll just have to wait and see what happens,” he said.
“I’m feeling probably as good mentally and physically as I have for the whole trip actually. I have taken it reasonably easy this week because obviously I was tired coming into it. I am feeling the benefits of that now.”
Fourth placed Jeev Milka Singh thought his chance of featuring in the shake-up had disappeared after a dreadful spell in his outward half which saw him drop three shots in four holes from the sixth.
But the 29 year old, who missed six months of last season with a wrist injury, recovered magnificently with six birdies in eight holes from the 11th to be home in 31.
“I had a great back nine,” he admitted. “On the front nine I started well but then I let it go. My caddie said to me that on the sixth and seventh holes I was stopping releasing the putter, I was tense with my stroke.
“I missed another one on the tenth but then I holed a good four footer on the 11th and I got my confidence back and I started stroking the ball instead of trying to guide it into the hole.
“At the turn I did feel I was out of the tournament but I said to myself just to hang in there because there were some holes coming up where I could birdie and it turned out to be great. Now I feel I’m right back in it. I’ve learned from today and I’ll go out there tomorrow and give it my best shot.”
Behind the leading quartet were four players on 15 under par 201, Angel Cabrera, Paul McGinley, Brian Davis and former Masters champion Ian Woosnam, who celebrated his first tournament of the season with an excellent third round 64, which included a run of birdie-birdie-birdie-eagle from the tenth.Third round scoresThird round video highlights