An American Major Champion held sway at the top of the leaderboard after the third round of the Dubai Desert Classic at the Emirates Golf Club, but it was Mark O’Meara rather than his best buddy, Tiger Woods, who shared pole position with Ireland’s Paul McGinley at the end of a fascinating day’s play.
O’Meara, the 1998 Masters and Open Champion, out-scored his playing partner, McGinley 68-69 to ensure that the two men will spend all four days in each other’s company on a 14 under par total of 202, reviving memories of 2001 when Thomas Björn and Woods were joined at the hip for all 72 holes before the Dane prevailed.
McGinley produced a wonderful little delicate chip-in from behind the last green in fast fading light for a birdie four while O’Meara, who had wedged to ten feet, pulled his birdie putt and the resulting par left the pair locked at the top of the leaderboard.
England’s Brian Davis lies in third place on 205, 11 under par, while Woods is one of four players sharing seventh place on 208, eight under par, following a third round of 69.
However the battle for the Dubai Desert Classic title looked like developing into a meaty contest between a pair of Ryder Cup players from either side of the Atlantic as McGinlay, the halfway leader, was pegged back and overhauled by O’Meara on the 16th, only for the Irishman to level proceedings with that chip-in at the last.
The two good friends matched each other birdie for birdie at the seventh and eighth to underline their determination not to give an inch. Then 47 year old O’Meara, who hasn’t won since capturing those two Major titles six years ago, birdied three holes in a row from the 14th to get to 14 under par before McGinley had the last word.
McGinley, a full decade younger than the American and still feted wherever he goes as ‘the man who holed the winning putt in The Ryder Cup’
O’Meara and McGinley are six shots ahead of Woods with 18 holes to play but O’Meara insisted he will not be looking over his shoulder. He said: “I can’t focus on Tiger Woods. Certainly I wouldn’t put it past him to come out and make a run tomorrow. That’s his style. I would expect him to. But my concern, really, is to worry about myself.
“I’m not afraid of Tiger Woods but I know what he’s capable of. He’s a great player, the greatest in my opinion and a great friend, but I think he’s going to have to shoot pretty low tomorrow because I know Paul is playing well and there are other fine players like Brian Davis playing well too - and he has already won this year.”
McGinley concurred that the increasing difficulty of the course could let several players back into the tournament. He said: “Nobody is ruled out of the equation. It’s not just me and Mark. Anybody from six, seven, eight shots back can win if the winds blows because the course is playing that difficult.
“The course changed completely today. Somebody told me that 67 was the best score of the day and I can see why. I seemed to be hitting away from the pins all day and if we get some wind tomorrow anybody could win from a long way back.”
Woods commented: “I played alright but I didn’t hit the ball all that close to the holes, Basically, the only putt I missed all day was on the 18th but. overall it was apretty good day.
"Anyone on that leaderboard over there can definitely do it tomorrow. The golf course is definitely firming up, the greens are firming up and the only thing is that the pins are not going to be that difficult tomorrow because I saw the marks out there on the greens. If the guys can get it going coming from behind then I can put a little heat on the guys up ahead.”