Editor’s note: Brian Keogh is a golf correspondent for The Irish Sun and a contributor to The Irish Times, Golf Digest Ireland and other golf publications. The following piece from Brian’s Irish Golf Desk is used with permission.
By Brian Keogh
Special to ARMCHAIR GOLF
RORY MCILROY SHOT A THIRD round 75 as high winds blew the Dubai Desert Classic wide open. The 21-year old finished the day tied for the lead on eight under par with Dane Anders Hansen and South Africa’s Thomas Aiken. But there are now 30 players within five shots of the leaders with Tiger Woods lurking ominously just a stroke off the pace after a battling 72 that featured an eagle, four birdies, four bogeys and a double.
McIlroy was simply pleased that he managed to dig deep and limit the damage after high winds caused major problems for the afternoon starters. After bogeys at the first three holes, the world No 7 did well to drop just one shot at the seventh before covering his last 11 holes in one under par.
“I just got off to a rough start but I thought I steadied the ship really well,” McIlroy said after hitting just five fairways in winds gusting over 25 mph.
A year ago, McIlroy might have lost his patience and the plot but he did well in the end to remain in the lead and he puts that down to maturity.
“There’s been a few rounds that I let get away from me, the second round at The Open last year, being a prime example, and I didn’t let that happen today, which was a positive sign,” he said.
Woods went out in 39 but started the back nine eagle-birdie and eventually came home in 33 thanks to a sliding, left to right, 15 foot birdie putt at the 18th. He punched the air after that one to earn a final-round pairing with Sergio Garcia, who led by two shots at one stage but came home in 41 for a 75 that leaves him in a seven-way share of fourth.
Asked to comment on a less than orthodox 72, Woods joked: “18 pars. I don’t know what you’re talking about.
“No, it was tough out there. I got off to a tough start there and battled back and then lost it just before the turn; and battled back again and lost it again at 16 and then battled back at 18. So, it was a tough day.”
After struggling to control his ball in windy conditions, Woods expected to finish the day several shots behind but Garcia double bogeyed the 17th when he tried to drive the green, hit a tree and ended up being forced to take a penalty drop from a bush in the desert.
Woods said: “We have a bunched leaderboard. There’s a bunch of guys with a chance to win tomorrow. Sergio and Rory didn’t pull away.”
Conditions are forecast to be similar on Sunday and McIlroy knows that he will have to be more patient than ever if he is to get his second European Tour victory.
Garcia lamented his back luck on 17 but he despite his 41 on the back nine, he knows he’s still got a fighting chance in the final round.
“I didn’t play the back nine that badly,” he claimed. “I hit a couple bad shots, but I was holding it nicely.”
Michael Hoey bogeyed the last for a 73 but at six under par he is just two shots off the pace in a share of 11th while world No 1 Lee Westwood is just three behind on five under after a 72.
“Might have a sniff at it,” Westwood said. “You never know.”
Brian Keogh covers golf for The Irish Sun and contributes to a variety of golf publications. Pay him a visit at Irish Golf Desk.