WHAT a turnaround. In more ways than one, too. Six shots ahead at the end of the weather-interrupted second round of the Turkish Airlines Open, Ian Poulter now trails the unheralded Australian, Wade Ormsby, by one as they head into the final circuit at Montgomerie Maxx Royal.
“It’s brought a lot of players into the fray,” said the Englishman, furious with himself, of his third-round 75 that followed near flawless opening efforts of 64 and 66.
He wasn’t joking, either. Sixteen players are now within five shots of the lead. Joining Ormsby and Poulter in today’s final group is former world No.1 Lee Westwood. Also just a shot off the pace is Marcel Siem. Out of nowhere, the German has emerged as the only player who can probably now stop Rory McIlroy crowning his sensational season by finishing it as European No.1.
As the Open and US PGA champion was prepping for his impending court appearance in a bitter dispute with former management company Horizon Sports, Siem leapt from 53rd to fourth on the money list by winning the BMW Masters, the opening event in the “Final Series”, in Shanghai a fortnight ago.
Admittedly, that was only down to a contrived points system that has drawn criticism from players. Nonetheless, it could now have the desired effect of there being something to play for heading into next week’s season-ending event, the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai. If Siem wins both here then in the United Arab Emirates – a tall order, of course – and McIlroy finishes outside the top 17, the man with the ponytail will claim the Order of Merit title.
“It’s a little bit more interesting now for everybody,” admitted Siem after holing a five-foot birdie putt at the last to the delight of the Germans who’d broken off from their golfing holidays to cheer him on for a 66 and a 54-hole total of 205, 11-under-par.
“That’s why it’s called the Race to Dubai and, though I don’t want to put too much pressure on myself, I’ll give it a shot.”
Bidding for his first victory in more than two years, Poulter was threatening to turn the £4.4 million event into a procession at the halfway stage before wasting all his good work. “It was crap,” confessed the Ryder Cup man of his third-round effort, which included a double-bogey at the 15th, a driveable par-4. He attributed hitting a tree there with a wedge for his approach as a “miscalculation” and reckoned that, more than anything, had opened the door for so many others. “Their dinner is going to taste lovely tonight and mine is going to taste horrible,” he said.
Ormsby, for one, was certainly looking forward to his tucker. The 34-year-old from Adelaide has never won on the European Tour. He was the fourth-last man into this event and, a year ago, was fighting for his future at the Qualifying School rather than a pot of money. “I think I’ve got my own locker there, having been back so many times,” he said of eight visits to the tortuous card marathon.
Ormsby’s third-round 68 was illuminated by an eagle-3 at the 18th – his ninth. “I had 270 to the flag and ripped a 3-wood straight at it to around four feet,” he reported. Twelve months after Victor Dubuisson held off some big guns – Tiger Woods among them – to emerge as an unexpected winner in Belek, can Ormsby emulate the feat? “I’ll keep trucking along and see what happens,” he said. “At the start of the week I thought this course was a bit too long for me but the big thing is keeping the ball on the fairway. That’s one of my strengths, though wedge play has been the highlight of my game so far.”
Westwood also signed for an eagle, his one coming at the 459-yard par-4 seventh. “I didn’t hit a particularly good drive, carving it out to the right,” he said of the key moment in his 67. “But, from 156 yards with a 9-iron, I drew it round some trees, landed it on the slope just right of the hole and shouted for it to get in the hole as it rolled down that.”
Playing with Westwood, Stephen Gallacher found himself 11 shots off the lead after stumbling to the turn in 39. The Scot then came home in 32, picking up five birdies in his last seven holes.
“It was the proverbial game of two halves,” he admitted afterwards. “Going out my iron play was dreadful but on the back nine I had a birdie chance at every hole.”
In taking a lot of them, he’s just five behind Ormsby in joint 14th. “If I can come out and play like I did coming in then I might be able to shoot 63 tomorrow,” added Gallacher.