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Saturday, 12 February 2011
Rory McIlroy  (Getty Images)
Rory McIlroy (Getty Images)

Thomas Aiken, Anders Hansen and Rory McIlroy share top spot at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic after a testing third round which ended with no fewer than 20 players within three shots of the lead.

And amongst them Tiger Woods is right in contention for a first title anywhere in almost 15 months, with the leaderboard looking too close to call heading into the final round.

Windy conditions affected the later starters on day three at the Emirates Golf Club but former World Number One Woods feels he has as good a chance as anyone after a battling level par 72.

That left him seven under par overall, one behind the leading trio of 2009 champion Rory McIlroy, Denmark's Hansen and in-form South African Aiken.

Nine players, including Woods, are within two of the leaders and the American superstar said: "I'm still in the ballgame. There are a bunch of guys there with a chance, and with the weather tomorrow you never know."

Woods closed with a 65 to triumph in Dubai in 2008 but does not expect that to give him any psychological edge.

"It's different conditions here (than in 2008), it's way different now," he added.

"If we get it like this tomorrow it will be a heck of a task, (but) it will be a lot of fun."

Woods was four over for his opening nine holes, but managed to put some horrid shots behind him on the inward half, an eagle three at the 548 yard tenth getting him on the right track.

Sergio Garcia, whose barren run extends even further than Woods' - right back to November 2008 - is in the group at seven under with Woods but led for much of the day until he double-bogeyed the 359 yard 17th.

Garcia has slipped from second to 79th in the world and took time out to try to discover his zest for the game.

Speaking about the 17th, he said: "It was unfortunate, I thought I was doing pretty well in the conditions. I didn't play the back nine that badly, I was holding it nicely and I had a couple of chances to get to ten (under). The good thing is that I'm still in it, I could have had a one-shot lead, but that's the way it is."

Northern Irishman McIlroy led at the end of the first and second rounds but his hopes of a wire-to-wire victory looked distant when he bogeyed four of his opening seven holes. Birdies at the ninth and 12th left him three over for the day but still firmly in contention.

He said: "The conditions were a lot different and I got off to a rough start, but I thought I steadied the ship really well. To be four over through seven and play the last 11 holes in one under is a pretty good effort."

Aiken - with six top-14 finishes in seven events this season - was one shot better off than McIlroy in his third round, while Hansen managed to finish one under thanks to birdies at the first, tenth and 13th.

"It was an extremely demanding golf course today," said 27 year old Aiken. "The wind was not just blowing, but it was gusting and swirling from all different directions. You really had to take time over your shots."

Last year's Challenge Tour Number One Alvaro Velasco of Spain shot the best round of the day with a seven under 65 to go into a share of fourth, and having made the cut with nothing to spare it was no coincidence that he was among the earlier starters who avoided the worst of the blustery conditions.

Martin Kaymer's quest to depose Lee Westwood as World Number One looks almost certain to be unsuccessful this week. The German needs a top-two finish in Dubai to climb to the top of the rankings but a four over par 76 left him in a tie for 47th.

Westwood, who missed the cut in Qatar last time out, is faring much better this week and a level par round left him at five under overall.

He said: "It was a really grinding day, especially this afternoon. We'd seen people go out this morning in probably the easier conditions and shoot some low scores.

"I thought I should have shot 70. I didn't make a putt over about six feet so that was the main problem. But I played quite solidly, didn't make too many mistakes and I might have a chance tomorrow."

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Tournament Leaderboard

Pos Player nameNatHolePar
1QUIROS, AlvaroESP18-11
T2KINGSTON, JamesRSA18-10
T2HANSEN, AndersDEN18-10
T4STRANGE, ScottAUS18-9
T4GONNET, Jean-BaptisteFRA18-9
T4VELASCO, AlvaroESP18-9
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