World's best fighting for glory in Dubai

Sergio Garcia, Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – A multitude of intriguing plot lines are vying for superiority in the final round of the $2.5 million Omega Dubai Desert Classic.

Will Tiger Woods win his third Dubai Desert Classic to prove the swing changes he’s making with Sean Foley are a step in the right direction?

Can Sergio Garcia shed two years of frustration to win his first Dubai Desert Classic?

Is Rory McIlroy destined to win his second European Tour event?

Take your pick.

Only an oracle could pick which story line will take precedence.

As for the subplots? There are too many to choose from. Twenty players are within three shots of the lead. Woods, Garcia and McIlroy are part of that posse.

McIlroy shares the lead at 8-under par with Denmark’s Anders Hansen and Thomas Aiken of South Africa. Woods and Garcia are part of a seven-man cast sharing third place at 7-under par.

Sweden’s Frederik Andersson Hed, Brett Rumford of Australia, Frenchman Jean-Baptiste Gonnet and Spaniards Alvaro Quiros and Alvaro Velasco are part of the cast of characters making up the rest of the story.

One word describes the conditions that plagued the Emirates’ Majlis Course in Round 3: brutal.

How brutal? The desert winds were so strong that only 16 of the 71 players managed to break par over the front nine. The field was a collective 49 over for that half of the golf course.

Only six players managed to birdie the first hole, against 18 bogeys and two doubles.

Woods started bogey, bogey, while overnight leader McIlroy started with three straight bogeys to see his lead fade away as if it was a mirage.

It was carnage.

Woods looked to have blown himself out of the tournament when he limped to the 10th tee after 39 blows. Three bogeys, a double bogey and a birdie proved that the swing changes he’s making with instructor Sean Foley don’t yet stand up to playing into a head wind.

Only another piece of magic at the 18th allowed Woods to salvage a score of level par to get in the mix. This time it was a birdie and not the eagle he made on Thursday that spared his blushes. After a poor bogey at the normally benign 16th, the two-time Dubai Desert Classic champion came home in 33 to get in the mix. A 25-foot curling birdie putt on the last saved his day.

“It was tough out there,” Woods said.

He preferred the word “battle” to describe the third-round challenge.

“I got off to a tough start and battled back, then lost it just before the turn, and battled back again and lost it again at 16, and then battled back at 18.”

Get the picture?

McIlroy managed a level-par back nine to stay at the top of the leaderboard.

“I’ve played the back nine well all week,” McIlroy said. “I usually do. So I was just trying to stay as patient as possible. I just needed to play smart and try not to make any bogeys. Really just limit the damage.”

Of the three main protagonists, Garcia looked the most adept at damage control – for ten holes, at least. He was one of that select group of 16 to play the front nine in under par. He looked like the Sergio of five years ago when he played the front nine in 1-under par.

After 18. he was back to the Sergio of the last two years. Home in 41, 4 over, with three bogeys and a double at the driveable 17th suggest we shouldn’t be too quick to hail the start of Sergio’s comeback.

It’s impossible to sign off without reference to at least one subplot: World No. 1 Lee Westwood is 5-under, one of those 20 players within three shots of the lead.

Write your ending to the 22nd Dubai Desert Classic. No one here can.

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