‘Beware the injured golfer’ is a well-worn phrase but never was its authenticity more truly exhibited than in the inaugural Abu Dhabi Golf Championship were an ailing Henrik Stenson produced sensational golf to storm into the lead after some truly exhilarating third round action at the Abu Dhabi Golf Club.
The 29 year old Swede carded a new course record, ten under par 62, to move to 16 under par 200 for the tournament, one shot clear of American Chris DiMarco, who recovered from a double bogey six at the first hole to post a 63 for 201, and two in front of Spain’s Miguel Angel Jiménez who returned a 64 for 202.
All were rounds worth celebrating but Stenson’s in particular was remarkable considering he revealed he had injured his back in practice at the nearby Emirates course in Dubai last Sunday and, for the past two days, had been taken tablets to combat a stomach upset.
“I wasn't feeling well at all yesterday and it was a struggle,” he said. “I was tired coming up the last couple of holes yesterday but I managed to finish birdie, birdie. And then I went and shot this score today, maybe I should keep this bug. I don't know what to say!”
“Obviously my ball striking is good when it's on, and that's why I've had some really good results recently. I've been gradually improving my short game over the last couple of years. It seems to be working in pretty good harmony for the time being.
“I’m just happy to be up and playing well early on in the season because I had my best year last year, and when you have a bit of winter break, you never know how it's going to start. I'm right up in the mix, so I'm happy.”
Stenson started his assault on the course right from the off, carding five birdies in a row at the first five holes, the gains on the fourth and fifth holes coming as a result of respective 30 foot putts.
“I had a pretty good feel for things then,” he said. “When you start rolling in putts of that length, you sort of feel like you’re on a roll and that things are looking pretty good. There was still a lot of golf left to play then obviously but I managed to stay focused right through the round.”
Another birdie at the eighth was negated by a three putt bogey on the ninth, but turning for home, the Swede – touted by many as already a certainly for Ian Woosnam’s European Team for The 36th Ryder Cup at The K Club – turned up the heat again.
A towering three iron to three feet on the tenth hole brought his first eagle three of the day, a nine iron to 12 feet and one putt brought his seventh birdie of the day at the 13th and then, like all the best entertainers, he saved the best for last, a majestic four iron approach to the 559 yard 18th, leaving him a mere three footer for a closing eagle three.
Leading the chase, and the man who will partner Stenson in the final round is DiMarco, but that looked a remote prospect when the 37 year old American Ryder Cup player opened up with a double bogey six at the first hole after twice finding sand.
But after that the New Yorker was flawless, birdieing the second and fourth holes before beginning an incredible run at the eighth hole which saw him cover the next seven holes in eight under par, the highlight of the run being a 40 foot putt for eagle three at the tenth.
The run came to an end with a par three at the short 15th but he birdied the 16th to ensure he had the clearest view of leader Stenson going into the final day.
“At some point in a run like I had around the turn, you've got to go, okay, obviously I'm hitting it good, so you have to just try to continue hit it great,” he said.
“One thing you see most pros do, you get seven eight or nine under and it’s out of our comfort zone sometimes, too. So you just have to tell yourself the reason I'm seven or eight under par is because I'm playing good golf and to just try to stay aggressive and get to nine or ten under, which I am happy I a managed to do.
“I am pleased with my performance and I am pleased with where I am going into the final round. With the way it is shaping up and the players who are up there, it looks like it is going to be a great last day.”
One of those is the third placed Jiménez, who has won six times in the past two years on The European Tour International Schedule and who showed he is ready to win again after a lengthy six week break at home with family and friends in Malaga.
Of the leaders, the Spaniard was the most disappointed not to be higher up the leaderboard because, despite eight birdies and not dropping a solitary shot to par all day, he let a couple of chances slip past the cup on both the 17th and 18th holes.
“If I had holed them I would have been right up there with the leader,” he said. “That was a little frustrating especially when you think you see the line of them and hit them where you want to go and they don’t go in but that’s golf. Overall I am very happy at the way I am hitting the ball and this is pretty good having been away from golf for so long.”
Ricardo Gonzalez and overnight leader Charl Schwartzel share fourth place on 13 under par 203 before a dazzling array of stars follow in close proximity. Leading the way on 12 under par 204 is Sergio Garcia after a 65, followed by Colin Montgomerie on 11 under par 205 following his own 65, while Vijay Singh is in eighth place on nine under par 207 after his third round 69.
With all those players crammed into the top ten, it promises to be a superb final day.
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