Matt Wallace deserves monument to mark remarkable birdie blitz in Dubai
Admittedly with preferred lies in operation after the course had been doused by heavy overnight rain for a second day in a row, the 33-year-old birdied every single hole on the inward journey in the penultimate circuit in the season-ending $11.5 million Rolex Series event. In doing so, he signed for a 60 and was inches away from becoming just the second player after Oliver Fisher, who achieved the feat in the 2018 Portugal Masters, to sign for a 59 on the DP World Tour. “I didn't even think there was a 59 on,” he admitted after seeing a bunker shot for a closing eagle just drift to the right of the hole.
For the record, Wallace’s card for the back nine read 3-3-3-2-4-3-3-2-4, adding up to a hugely impressive 27 shots. Even allowing for the fact it came on a day when this particular course was probably playing at its easiest due to the soft conditions and players being allowed to place their ball on cut areas, it was some effort.
“Played great,” declared the four-time tour winner, who set out trying to get himself back into the tournament after finding himself seven shots off the lead at the halfway stage and is now the man sitting at the top of the leaderboard on 16-under-par, one ahead of Ryder Cup team-mates Viktor Hovland and Tommy Fleetwood after they signed for matching 66s in the same group. After his 64, Ewen Ferguson is right in the mix on 13-under, three ahead of Bob MacIntyre (69).
Wallace is the first player to sign for nine straight birdies on either a front or back nine on the DP World Tour. He also tied James Nitties, who did the trick in the 2019 Vic Open, for the most consecutive birdies, as well as now sharing the record of most birdies in one round - 12 with Frenchman Raphael Jacquelin, who produced his birdie blitz in the 2013 Turkish Airlines Open.
“What an amazing day,” admitted Wallace, who won on the PGA Tour for the first time earlier in the season before finding himself battling to hang on to his DP World Tour card when his focus turned to matters on this side of the Atlantic. Even when that was secured, his hopes of making it here looked slim following a five-over-par third round in last week’s Nedbank Golf Challenge in South Africa but, thanks to a five-under closing effort, he just sneaked into the 50-man field.
“Yeah, kind of gutted now actually a little bit,” he said when the subject of having a chance to shoot 59 was raised again. “Great opportunity to do it. I've done it at Moor Park (in Hertfordshire) on the West Course, which is only a par 68. But to do it out there would have been really special today. Ball in hand helps. I had a couple good lies for up-and-downs, but it was fantastic and a good effort for 59.”
While Rory McIlroy had wrapped up a fifth Race to Dubai title before a ball had even been struck on Thursday, the winner on Sunday will pick up a whopping $3 million. “Yeah, no bogeys in two rounds, which is nice,” said Wallace as he looked forward to the task ahead on the final day of the 2023 campaign. “I'm playing solid. Played with Rory yesterday and I felt like my game was right there, and it's obviously proved that today.”
If Ferguson can pick up the 2000 points up for grabs, he’d join MacIntyre in securing one of the ten PGA Tour cards for 2024 on offer through the Race to Dubai Rankings. Yes, of course, it’s a tall offer and defending champion Jon Rahm is another big gun still in the mix 11-under. But the Dubai-based Scot followed what he described as “my best ball-striking round of the year” on Friday with a classy performance in his third round alongside major champion Shane Lowry.
Ferguson, a two-time winner in his rookie last season, had already stiffed an approach at the fifth when he almost holed his second at the par-5 seventh, which he eagled. Helped by rolling in a long one at the 11th and making a terrific par save at the 15th after finding an awkward spot in a fairway bunker, the 27-year-old underlined his growing stature as a player at this level.
“Yeah, I’ll think about it,” he said of being in with a chance to land the biggest win of his career and also become the first Scot to claim this title. “I’ll go and practice my putting a wee bit and then go home tonight and just chill. I’ve been in contention quite a lot out here now. If you are there or thereabouts with nine holes to go, that’s what it is all about. You just need that wee bit of magic – you chip in somewhere or hole a shot. Something always happens on a Sunday for the winner, a little bit of luck somewhere and hopefully I get that luck tomorrow.”
Pole Adrian Meronk still leads the battle for those ten PGA Tour tickets, with Ryan Fox, Thorbjorn Olesen, Victor Perez, Sami Valimaki, Alexander Bjork, MacIntyre, Jorge Campillo, Rasmus Hojgaard and Ryo Hisatsune the others currently in card spots. It’s now all down to a final 18 holes and Ferguson has at least given himself a chance to pull off something very special indeed.
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