Els takes lead over Woods in Dubai
Tiger Woods struggled with everything on the course on Saturday, missing putts, driving wayward balls into the desert terrain and yelling at a photographer for taking a shot while he was swinging.
Ernie Els had a very different day, shooting a bogey-free round, nailing an eagle on the 10th and putting five birdies to rise from fifth to first place at the Dubai Desert Classic. The South African’s third-round 65 gave him a one-stroke lead for an overall 11-under 205.
Woods, who led for the first two rounds, dropped four strokes behind Els, shooting a one-over 73 for 7-under 209 and tied for fifth with five others.
Defending champion Henrik Stenson (68) moved to second with a total 10-under 206. European Tour money leader Lee Westwood (68) and Graeme McDowell (69) were equal third at 208.
Woods, who hit two birdies and two bogeys—including one on the last hole—found himself beyond the rough after several wayward drives landed in sand near the gallery.
“I didn’t play well today,” said Woods, who opened his season with an eight-stroke win at the Buick Invitational last week for a fourth straight title.
“I didn’t hit the ball close enough on the greens, and consequently I was ‘lag putting’ a lot. Never really gave myself a lot of looks at birdies.”
The clicking cameras also were a problem for Woods. He yelled at one photographer at the eighth hole for taking a picture of the American’s backswing off the tee. Woods’s ball landed to the left of the course near some palm trees.
Marshals repeatedly had to tell the large number of people following Woods to put their cameras away and stand still. They ejected a few fans for not listening.
Woods afterward said the crowd and photographers were part of the sport. “Just one of those things you have to deal with ... You just got to fight through it,” he said. “I have to go out and play a good round of golf and play better than I have the last two days and obviously start making some putts.”
Three-time Dubai winner Els said he was happy with his third round—especially after his par-72 second round that was troubled by gusty, sand-filled winds.
“I hit the ball really nice. I hit a lot of fairways, a lot of greens,” said Els, who won the Dubai tournament in 1994, 2002 and 2005.
But he said he couldn’t let up heading into the final. “Probably need a really low one [score] tomorrow [Sunday],” Els said. “I can’t see Henrik with Tiger and the other guys not shooting low, so I just got to keep going tomorrow.”
Sunday’s line-up reminded Stenson of last year in Dubai—when Els was leading by two with the Swede in second and Woods in fifth going into the final round. Stenson went on to win, Els took second and Woods third.
“It’s always hard to defend a title, and I think especially this one will be hard. I’m very happy with the job I’m doing so far,” said Stenson, who took second in Qatar and Abu Dhabi last month. “Hopefully, I can go out and play a solid round again.”
Westwood said even with the top player in the mix anything was possible.
“Golf is funny. [Woods] wins by seven at his own tournament, eight last week ... leading by two after one day here, you’d think it’s over and he’s running away. But golf has a funny way of reining you in and just when you think you’ve got it, it bites you,” Westwood said.
Tied with Woods in fourth were second-round runner-up Damien McGrane of Ireland (72); Sergio Garcia of Spain (70); Abu Dhabi Golf Championship winner Martin Kaymer of Germany (69); Peter Hedblom of Sweden (70); and Shiv Kapur of India (69).—Sapa-AP