Rolex Series

Harding leads Ryder Cup stars heading into final round in Dubai

Justin Harding will take a two-shot lead into the final round of the 2022 Dubai Desert Classic but he will have to hold off a host of Ryder Cup stars if he is to win a first Rolex Series title at Emirates Golf Club.

Justin Harding

While many of those around him endured roller coaster rounds, the South African plotted his way to an impressive 71 to get to 12 under and lead the way from four-time Major Champion Rory McIlroy, who carded a 69 as he also looks for a first Rolex Series win.

McIlroy's Ryder Cup team-mate Tommy Fleetwood was then at nine under alongside South African Erik van Rooyen, a shot clear of three more members of Europe's 2020 team in Paul Casey, Tyrrell Hatton and Bernd Wiesberger, England's Richard Bland, Pole Adrian Meronk and Paraguayan Fabrizio Zanotti.

European captain at Whistling Straits Pádraig Harrington and another team member in Lee Westwood then completed a top 12 that has seven Major titles and ten Rolex Series wins between them.

Harding has plenty of wins of his own, however, with two victories on the DP World Tour to go with seven on the Sunshine Tour and two on the Asian Tour, with six of those victories coming in the last four years.

He has also proven he can go low on a Sunday at Emirates Golf Club, carding a 63 en route to a top-ten finish in 2019, and he was not daunted by the challenge facing him.

"At the end of the day, I've just got to go out and keep doing what I'm doing and make a couple of birdies and shoot 70, 69, something like that," he said. "Make them shoot five or six under par and credit to them.

"I'm quite happy with it and go again tomorrow.

"I thought I played quite solid. It was a difficult day to be fair, some tough flags to get at. There were times when I didn't quite put the ball in play and I couldn't really go anywhere near them."

Harding entered the day with a two-shot lead at 11 under but it looked like he would fall back as he started with seven pars and then made a three-putt bogey from long range at the eighth to turn in 36.

Meanwhile, Hatton pitched to 13 feet at the second, birdied the par-five third after laying up and put an approach from the rough to five feet at the fifth to hit the front.

He joined Harding in bogeying the eighth as he missed the green but he made a two-putt birdie on the par-five tenth to pick the shot back up.

At the end of the day, I've just got to go out and keep doing what I'm doing. I'm quite happy with it and go again tomorrow

At that point, Hatton was battling for the lead with Westwood after his fellow Englishman had recovered from a bogey at the first with birdies on the second, third, fifth, sixth, seventh and tenth but it was to all change on the back nine.

Westwood bogeyed the 14th and made a triple on the last after hitting a poor tee-shot and then finding the water, while Hatton bogeyed the 12th and 14th and registered a double on the next to also fall back.

By contrast, Harding was a picture of consistency and he holed from 18 feet on the 12th before making a two-putt birdie from a long way out on the 13th to lead by three.

McIlroy was the man to trim the gap, as he birdied the par-five last with two putts to complete an eventful round.

The Northern Irishman birdied the first with an approach to eight feet but gave the shot back on the third before he holed from 25 feet on the seventh and put a remarkable second to 16 feet at the tenth to set up an eagle.

A plugged lie at the 11th led to a bogey but he made a two-putt birdie on the par-five 13th to get back into double figures, with a poor tee-shot on the 16th bringing a third bogey of the day.

Fleetwood turned in level par as he sandwiched back-to-back bogeys on the fifth and sixth with gains on the third and seventh but he got up and down from the sand at the 13th, birdied the par-four 17th after driving to just short of the green and made another birdie from over the back of the last in a 69.

Van Rooyen opened with a bogey before holing a 44-footer on the ninth and making a birdie from the sand on the tenth and, while he dropped a shot on the 15th, a two-putt gain from the fringe on the 18th saw him sign for a 71.

Austrian Wiesberger carded a 69, one shot better than English defending champion Casey and two fewer than Bland and Poland's Meronk.

Zanotti signed a 72, while Hatton carded a 73, two shots more than Westwood and four more than Irishman Harrington.

Kiwi Ryan Fox made the second hole-in-one of the season as he holed a nine iron from 175 yards at the fourth.

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