Ernie Els, the master of the Emirates Golf Club, hit his stride in the third round of the Dubai Desert Classic with a blistering seven under par 65 to take the lead as he chases an unprecedented fourth title.
The final day is poised to be yet another classic over the Majlis Course with Els on 11 under par 205 and leading the defending champion, Henrik Stenson, by a shot with the current European Number One, Lee Westwood, and Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell a further two shots behind.
World Number One Tiger Woods was totally out of sorts as he struggled all day, shooting a one over par 73, his first over par round in five visits to Dubai. That left him on seven under par 209, four shots off the lead and sharing fifth place with five other players including Damien McGrane, who can hold his head high after outscoring his illustrious playing partner.
Sergio Garcia, Martin Kaymer, winner of the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship two weeks ago, Peter Hedblom and Shiv Kapur are also on five under par
Els clearly loves coming to Dubai and a tournament he has won three times – in 1994, 2002 and 2005 – and finished runner-up the last two years.
And, in his first event of the year, he once again played at his imperious best to rise to the top of the leaderboard. Five birdies and a magnificent eagle on the tenth decorated his card and the World Number Five moved to the top of the leaderboard.
“I enjoyed it today,” said Els. “It was a round that I really needed. I was a bit disappointed with my round yesterday. I felt I probably needed two 64s to have half a chance in the tournament, and as it turned out, a 65 today, and probably need a really low one tomorrow. I can't see Henrik with Tiger and the other guys, not shooting low. So just got to keep going tomorrow.”
Els is clearly comfortable in Dubai, where he opened his course at Dubai Sports City on Monday, The Els Club.
Stenson feels even more at home as he lives in Dubai and after two second place finishes in his first two events of the year in the Gulf, he is right on form and has no intention of relinquishing the title lightly.
The Swede got off to a flying start with three opening birdies although his momentum was slowed with a bogey on the fifth. But two birdies coming home completed a round of 68 and put him on ten under par 206.
“I'm looking forward to tomorrow,” he said. “It's always hard to defend a title and I think especially this one will be hard. I'm very happy with the job I'm doing so far, so I'm proud of that, and just looking forward and hopefully I can go out and play a solid round again.
“It's all about positioning yourself and hopefully being a couple of shots into the lead, going into the back nine, give yourself chances to win tournaments, and at least so far, I'm in with a good chance.”
Westwood is another form-horse having secured three top five finishes this season and eight top tens in his last nine European Tour events. Two birdies to finish put him at eight under par and only three off the lead.
Similarly McDowell has being showing promise recently and lies alongside the Englishman after a 69.
Woods looked out of sorts from the moment he missed a four foot birdie putt on the first hole. The precision of the first round was lost as he struggled to find fairways and greens. A bogey on the last, when he hit his second into the water, pretty much summed up an uncharacteristic off day.
“I didn't play well today,” he admitted. “I didn't hit the ball close enough on the greens, and consequently I was lag putting a lot. Never really gave myself a lot of looks at birdies. I have to go out and play a good round of golf and play better than I have the last two days and obviously start making some putts.”
McGrane might have found himself in unchartered water playing with the best player in the world but outscored Woods with a 72 to Woods’ 73. McGrane lies 318 places below Woods in the Official World Golf Ranking but battled hard and kept himself in the tournament at seven under par.