DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Ian Poulter broke free from a crowded leaderboard Saturday to take a two-shot lead into the final round of the Dubai World Championship.
The Englishman was at 12-under after a third-round 69, two shots ahead of Ross Fisher of England, Thailand’s Thongchai Jaidee and Francesco Molinari of Italy, who all were at 10-under.
Poulter, who won last week’s Hong Kong Open, started Saturday in a tie for the lead with Fisher, and the two were even for much of the day. Poulter made his move on the back nine with two birdies while Fisher three-putted the 15th hole and went in the water on the 18th, which forced him to settle for a bogey.
“You know, I think it was important today to go out there and play solid, bank a few birdies,” Poulter said. “I felt I dropped two silly, silly bogeys on holes that I really feel I should have taken advantage of. That was the only frustration of the day.”
Fisher, who tied the course record with a 64 in the second round, was left to rue what could have been a solid round and a chance to at least tie for the lead several times on the back nine. His best chance came on the 15th, when he hit his drive to the green on the 371-yard, par 4 hole. His first putt for eagle rolled past the hole, and he missed what should been an easy putt for birdie.
“I made it harder, I didn’t play as well as yesterday,” Fisher said. “I missed a couple of putts at key times … Hit a great drive on 15 onto the green and unfortunately didn’t capitalize there.”
Jaidee and Molinari charged up the leaderboard, with the Thai shooting a 3-under 69 while the Italian had a 4-under 68 to put themselves in contention. No. 1-ranked Lee Westwood also was in the mix, shooting a 1-under 71 to remain three shots off the pace.
Westwood won the tournament last year, shooting a course record 64 on the final Sunday on his way to an easy victory.
“Kept giving myself a lot of chances at birdies, and nothing would go in,” Westwood said. “I had to hit some good shots coming in just to make a couple of birdies in the last five holes, which has kept me in the tournament probably.”
Graeme McDowell’s hopes of winning the European money title took another hit after he finished four shots behind money-leader Martin Kaymer and far down the leaderboard in a tie for 30th.
Kaymer, the U.S. PGA champion, will claim the money title and a $1.5 million bonus by finishing higher than McDowell, who can only overtake the German in the Order of Merit by winning the tournament or ending up alone in second as long as Kaymer finishes no higher than a tie for third. If McDowell is tied for second, Kaymer could afford to finish as low as sixth.
“Barring the impossible, I think Europe’s No. 1 is probably not a reality for me any more,” McDowell said. “Unless I shoot 55 tomorrow, which unless one of you boys comes and putts for me tomorrow, I don’t think will happen.
“You know he (Kaymer) is going to win the Race to Dubai tomorrow and he’s the best. He’s been one of the best players in the world this year and certainly deserves everything he has achieved.”
After failing to break par in the first two days, McDowell made three birdies on the back nine to reach 2 under for the tournament.
Kaymer effectively ended the two-man battle for the Order of Merit on Thursday, surging to a five-shot lead over McDowell after shooting a 67. The lead ballooned to eight shots Friday, when Kaymer hit a 70 for a share of fourth place.
Kaymer occasionally struggled Saturday, shooting a 1-over 73. It was an up-and-down day that ended badly with a double-bogey on the 18th, when the No. 3-ranked Kaymer’s chip onto the green rolled back into the water.
“It was a very frustrating finish, very disappointing,” said Kaymer, whose chances of overtaking Westwood at the top of the rankings also appear unlikely. “I thought if I could finish with a birdie I might have a chance tomorrow … Tomorrow I will play as aggressive as possible.”
McDowell, though, never could take full advantage of Kaymer’s errors because of his poor putting.
“The big issue this week is really that I can’t hole putts and, without the putter working, it’s very difficult to get on top of the golf course,” he said. “Like I said yesterday, I feel like every time I miss a green I feel like I’m making bogeys because I’m not holing the 6- and 8-footers.”
McDowell’s fellow Northern Irelander, Rory McIlroy, shot a 6-under 66 – the lowest round of the day – to climb back into contention at 7 under. He made seven birdies, including three in a row after the turn.
“My iron play improved, I gave myself a lot of chances,” McIlroy said. “I was hitting a lot of greens but just not getting it close enough, and today, I birdied a few of the par 3s and played really well. “