POSING for pictures in front of advertising boards bearing giant-sized images of Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods wasn’t what they’d had in mind for a memento. With the world’s top two no longer here, though, after both missed the halfway cut, it was as good as it got for spectators on day three of the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship.
Some of them were blissfully unaware of Friday’s dramatic events in the desert. One even mistook Garth Mulroy for McIlroy, based on the similarity of their names, though it could also have been on the standard of their play as the South African slipped from three off the lead at the start to ten behind Justin Rose after a 75, the same as world No.1 McIlroy mustered in each of his two outings.
Also amongst those still here in the flesh is Richie Ramsay, pictured below. Unlike McIlroy, the Aberdonian has managed to keep out of the thick stuff lining the velvet-like fairways. After a five-under 67, he’s lying joint fifth, four behind Rose after a 68 kept the Englishman out in front, doubling his one-shot overnight advantage over both Dane Thorbjorn Olesen and Welshman Jamie Donaldson.
Ramsay is chasing a rich reward at the end of the Gulf swing, which moves on to Qatar then Dubai. The world No.53 will be in next month’s WGC Match Play in Arizona if he can stay inside the top 64. Climbing three or more places, which is a distinct possibility with a top-ten finish today in an event carrying massive world ranking points, will put him on course to receive a Masters invitation at the end of March.
“If I play well tomorrow it could be a massive step towards that, but I’m trying not to think about it,” said Ramsay, who has negotiated his 54 holes so far and recorded just four bogeys – all on the front nine.
Four in front at one point, having bounced back from a three-putt opening bogey by covering his nine holes from the fourth in six-under, world No.5 Rose has two of Europe’s rising stars breathing down his neck. Like McIlroy, Olesen is a recent addition to the Nike stable, but, unlike the Northern Irishman, he has adapted straight away to his new clubs, as a blemish-free 69 from last year’s Sicilian Open winner illustrated.
While there was no sign of McIlroy, who is believed to have headed across to Dubai to start putting in some hard graft with coach Michael Bannon, among those out of the event but still on the practice range here yesterday were Colin Montgomerie and Paul McGinley.
Montgomerie, the winning Ryder Cup captain in 2010, was receiving tuition from Pete Cowen, while McGinley, the man appointed to lead Europe at Gleneagles next year, promised opposite number Tom Watson that he’d be playing things with a “straight bat”. Responding to Davis Love III, the American captain at Medinah last year, revealing he’d had some control over hole locations, McGinley said: “I’ll be using home advantage to set up the course, but I won’t be in charge of pin positions.”