He may be 318 places behind Tiger Woods on the Official World Golf Ranking, but Ireland’s Damien McGrane will go head to head with the world’s best player in the final group of the third round of the Dubai Desert Classic.
Playing in gusting winds that whipped the desert sands around the Emirates Golf Club into the faces of every player in the field, McGrane carded an excellent three under par 69 to move to seven under 137 and within a stroke of Woods, who birdied the 18th hole to post a one under 71 for the day that took him to eight under for the tournament.
Those figures add up to the most intriguing of final round pairings for the third round, with McGrane, the former club professional, going head to head with the man who has been changing the face of golf for all of his adult life.
McGrane is looking forward to going head to head with Woods in what will be a fascinating match up. If the 36 year old can ignore the external distractions that playing with Woods inevitably brings, he has the ability and the sense of humour to cope with the pressure that will be heaped upon his shoulders on the first tee.
Asked by the world’s Media what he had in common with Woods, McGrane instantly replied: “I think we had dinner in the same restaurant the other night, that’s about it!
“Well, I'm sure it's something that is going to be very different, it will be a different experience, again. It's an experience I haven't had before playing with a player of his stature. I suppose there's nobody bigger in the game, is there. So it has to be a new experience for me.
“But he has his game and I have my game, and I try to do the best with what I have. This what it's about, isn't it? This is why we practice so hard and why we work continuously to improve what we do.
“I think everybody here would like to play with Tiger, so, yeah, absolutely. You know, it's part and parcel of what we do. We want to be out there with the best players in the world and obviously trying to achieve the highest things in the game, and obviously to win golf tournaments, that's what you have to do.”
Woods was the first to admit that he knew nothing of McGrane, “except from the fact he’s Irish”, but being the player he is he will have nothing but respect for his third round playing partner.
“We’ve got to go out there and play. I've got to worry about me – I have my own responsibilities out there and trying to place the ball where I need to place it, and you know, whatever I've got to do I've got to do and I'm sure he feels the same way.
“If I had to advise anyone on playing with me for the first time I’d say there's a lot of distractions here. I know there's a policy with no cameras but that's not really happening out here.That just the way it is. You know, people out here are going to have cameras, they are going to get you in your swing, and unfortunately that's just the way it goes.
“People mean well, they are trying to capture a moment, but sometimes it happens to be at the wrong moment. But I feel fine – I was pleased with anything in the red today. It was not a pretty day out there, so I’m pleased.”
While the majority of the focus around the Emirates Golf Club will fall on the McGrane versus Woods final pairing, a hungry chasing pack led by defending champion Henrik Stenson and including the likes of Sergio Garcia, Graeme McDowell, Ernie Els, Martin Kaymer and Lee Westwood will be looking to push the leaders all the way.
Stenson posted a second round of two under to move to six under alongside Frenchman Thomas Levet, Garcia and McDowell are among the seven strong group on five under, with Els, Kaymer and Westwood a further stroke back.