Who needs Tiger Woods? Yes, of course, it was a blow to the tournament organisers when the 14-time major winner withdrew before the second round in the £2.2 million Omega Dubai Desert Classic due to reported back spasms. Just as golf will have a life, though, after he calls it quits, so has the event dubbed the ‘Major of the Middle East’. The prospect of Sergio Garcia and Henrik Stenson going head-to-head in the last round at Emirates Golf Club is proof of that.
Chasing the 30th victory of his professional career, Garcia is out in front. But not by much. Stenson, the Open champion, is breathing down the Spaniard’s neck after the pair both played 31 holes on Saturday. It followed Friday’s suspension of play due to a shamal, fierce northwesterly winds. Garcia, who has been in the lead since opening with a 65, sits on 16-under, three ahead of Stenson. Now 37, he’s hardly put a foot wrong thus far in his pursuit of a first European Tour title triumph since the Qatar Masters just over three years ago.
Darkness had descended as Garcia’s group played the final hole. The green was illuminated by lights in the hospitality unit behind the green, but it was still miraculous that he managed to hole a ten-footer for birdie. It may not be uncommon for an event like the Dispatch Trophy, Edinburgh’s historic team tournament, to end with a stab in the dark, but not a European Tour event. “At the end it was very, very dark,” said Garcia. “I couldn’t really see much on the last three shots. The last putt was down to feel and I’m very fortunate to be able to make it. I have a chance of winning a great tournament and I’m going to give it my all tomorrow.”
Stenson, the 2007 winner, also birdied the last in the fading light. “I’m very pleased with the day’s work,” said the European No 1 after signing for a third-round 67. “Sitting just off the lead is where you want to be. If you can be within a couple shots [off the lead] heading into the back nine, you can make it happen.” He ended up with the Claret Jug in his hands at Royal Troon, of course, the last time he was involved in a last-day shoot-out. Ian Poulter (67) and Prom Meesawat (68) are closest to the top two on 11-under.
Tyrrell Hatton’s third-round 65 for a nine-under total equalled the best score of the week. While happy with that seven-under-par effort, it ended on a frustrating note, missing a par putt from two-and-a-half feet at the ninth. In Thursday’s first round, the 25-year-old had three-putted the same green from no more than three feet, missing from a foot at the second attempt with a one-handed swipe. “I’d happily blow up the ninth green right now,” he admitted.
Hatton, who closed with rounds of 62 and 63 at St Andrews to claim his breakthrough European Tour win in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship last October, said he’d struggled in the company of Garcia and Stenson in the opening two rounds. “They were hitting it great and I felt like I was hitting it horrendous, so I didn’t feel as though I had a low score in me,” he added. A chat with his dad Jeff, his life-long coach, did the trick.
Stephen Gallacher’s hopes of securing a top-ten finish, which would get him into next week’s event in Malaysia, suffered a setback with a last-hole bogey. “I need a really low one – eight or nine-under – tomorrow,” said the two-time winner after hitting the fairway at just two of the par-5s in carding a 69 for a four-under total. He’s two ahead of Scott Jamieson (72) and five in front of Paul Lawrie (74). Richie Ramsay, the last of four Scots to survive the cut, is on five-over after a 76.