The Omega Dubai Desert Classic was first played in 1989. Since then, no player has successfully defended his title.
That could very well change this year.
Stephen Gallacher fired a 9-under 63 at Emirates Golf Club in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, to take a two-shot lead into Sunday’s final round. And as if 63 wasn’t impressive enough, consider that Gallacher shot 9-under 28 on the back nine, setting a tournament record and tying a European Tour record.
Of course, there are still 18 holes remaining, and the likes of Rory McIlroy, Brooks Koepka and Thorbjorn Olesen are not far behind.
“It’s a great stretch of holes,” McIlroy said of Gallacher’s back nine, before adding in, “Hopefully, he doesn’t continue it tomorrow.”
Here are 5 Things you need to know from Saturday’s third-round action in Dubai:
• • •
1. GALLACHER EYEING REPEAT: Stephen Gallacher won last year’s Omega Dubai Desert Classic by three shots over Richard Sterne thanks in large part to a strong third-round performance of 10-under 62.
He didn’t shoot 62 on Saturday. Instead, he carded 63 – a nice consolation.
The defending champion from Scotland leads by two shots over second-place Rory McIlroy after making eight birdies and an eagle, all of which came in his final 10 holes.
“It was quite a struggle to start with, especially the first three holes,” said Gallacher, who made par on his first seven holes before a bogey at the eighth.
“And from then on, kept hitting it close, and If I hit it to 30 feet, I holed it.”
Gallacher finished with 25 putts. His final one, at the par-5 18th, was a 15-foot birdie roll after he hit his third shot from a tough lie out of the sand.
“If you just stay patient. . . . stay focused, it’s amazing what this game throws up,” said Gallacher, who is also fighting for a spot in the WGC-Accenture Match Play. Gallacher is currently 67th in the world.
• • •
2. FINAL GROUP STALLS: Staying ahead of Stephen Gallacher on the leaderboard might have been impossible on Saturday, but Rory McIlroy and Brooks Koepka, playing in Saturday’s final group, didn’t help matters much.
McIlroy, the second-round leader by a shot, struggled off the tee and couldn’t get anything to fall on the greens while Koepka, solo second after two rounds, fell apart down the stretch.
The World No. 6, McIlroy bogeyed his opening hole for the second straight day, but followed that with a birdie at the second and an eagle at the third. From there, though, he made just two birdies and one bogey to end up with a third-round 3-under 69.
“I didn’t drive the ball particularly well and I felt like I hit a lot of good putts, they just didn’t go in,” said McIlroy, who battled stomach cramps on Friday, but said he was feeling better on Saturday.
McIlroy’s problems off the tee can be attributed to his alignment. He said his shoulders are more open than they should be. On the greens, however, luck just wasn’t on his side. McIlroy left putts on the front lip at Nos. 13 and 14, and just missed a handful of other strokes with the putter during his round.
Koepka made four birdies in his first four holes, including rolling one in from the fringe at the seventh and holing a lengthy, big left-to-right-breaking putt at the eighth. But he made three bogeys to just one birdie in his final seven holes to finish with a 2-under 70.
• • •
3. WASTED OPPORTUNITIES: After hitting just four fairways and struggling to a 1-over 73 on Friday, Tiger Woods’ third round was an improvement.
Yet, the 2-under 70 that he carded Saturday wasn’t quite what he needed to get himself back into contention heading into Sunday’s final round.
The World No. 1 hit half of his fairways, missed just five greens, including none on the back nine, and carded four birdies. But he also struck 29 putts, 17 on the back nine, and failed to capitalize on numerous scoring chances.
“I wasted a lot of opportunities out there today,” Woods said. “Today was an easy day for me to get to 10 (under). I only hit a couple bad shots and missed a ton of putts. But I really hit it good. Just threw away a lot of shots.”
Woods had to scramble early, chipping in for par on his opening hole. He got into trouble again at the par-5 third, where he sent his second shot into the desert and ended up making bogey.
He started to turn things around with birdies at Nos. 6 and 8, but a poor chip and missed par putt at the par-4 ninth led to his second bogey of the round.
That was his last bogey of the day, but after birdies at the par-5 10th and par-4 12th, Woods made six straight pars to close out his round. Especially disappointing were the last two holes.
Woods missed a 5-footer for birdie at the short par-4 17th and then three-putted for par at the par-5 finishing hole.
Tied for 37th at 5 under overall, Woods will be out of the final-round picture. But on a positive note, he’ll be playing on Sunday for the first time in 2014 after missing the 54-hole cut last week at Torrey Pines.
• • •
4. BIG CLIMBERS: Steve Webster began his third round more than four hours before Saturday’s final group of Rory McIlroy and Brooks Koepka. Dawie Van Der Walt? He teed off more than five hours before the lead pair.
So by the time McIlroy and Koepka stepped on the first tee, Webster and Van Der Walt were already in the clubhouse – and with low numbers.
Van Der Walt carded a 7-under 65 while Webster fired one shot better, a 64, as both made big climbs up the leaderboard on Moving Day. Webster (11 under) moved up 39 spots and Van Der Walt (9 under) improved 49 spots.
Webster, ranked 184th in the Official World Golf Ranking, capped his round with a 7-under 30 on the back nine. In total, the Englishman, who tied for seventh at this event a year ago, made nine birdies and an eagle. Van Der Walt, ranked 176th in the world, had just one bogey to go along with eight birdies, including three birdies on his first three holes.
Like Webster, the South African is searching for his third career European Tour victory. But while Webster hasn’t won since the 2007 Portugal Masters, Van Der Walt already has a victory this season, at the Nelson Mandela Championship.
Another South African, Darren Fitchardt, also rose considerably on the leaderboard, climbing 35 spots after a third-round 66. He’s tied for ninth at 9 under.
• • •
5. SHORT SHOTS: Thorbjorn Olesen tied for third at this event last season and he is once again in position for a strong finish in Dubai. Olesen carded a bogey-free, 7-under 65 on Saturday to move into a tie for third at 12 under overall. . . . Fred Couples is tied for 61st at 2 under after a third-round 73. Of course, the more interesting storyline is that Couples, a Seattle Seahawks fan, had to relinquish his Super Bowl tickets after making the cut. So instead of attending the big game, Couples will watch it on television.