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Sunday February 2, 2014 MYT 12:17:10 AM
Sunday February 2, 2014 MYT 12:17:14 AM
by matt smith
DUBAI (Reuters) - Champion Stephen Gallacher amassed seven birdies and an eagle on the back nine on Saturday, tying a European Tour record, as the scintillating Scot snatched the Dubai Desert Classic third-round lead from Rory McIlroy.
Gallacher, 39, blitzed his way to a nine-under-par 63 - the joint lowest round of this year's event - to finish with a 16-under total of 200, two clear of world number six McIlroy having started the day four adrift.
World number one Tiger Woods again failed to sparkle, returning a 70 to end up 11 shots off the pace.
After picking up four strokes on the front nine of his opening round, the 14-times major winner has made just six birdies in 45 holes.
"I wasted a lot of opportunities out there today," a frustrated Woods told reporters.
"I only hit a couple of bad shots and missed a ton of putts. I really hit it good and just threw away a lot of shots."
At the other end of the spectrum, Gallacher gobbled up most of his chances.
"It was a bit of a struggle to start with especially the first three holes," the Scot said.
"I never found the fairway. Then I hit it stiff at nine and from then on I kept hitting it close and if I hit it to 30 feet I holed it.
"I found last year it's easier when you're leading rather than chasing so I tried to get as many birdies as I could. I didn't want to count them up," said Gallacher whose Dubai win 12 months ago was his first title in nearly a decade.
His remarkable nine-under effort of 28 was the equal lowest back-nine score on tour in relation to par.
McIlroy birdied the 17th to add some lustre to another frustrating round for the twice major winner who returned a 69 after finding only four fairways and missing a series of middle-distance putts.
Playing partner Brooks Koepka (70) of the United States and Dane Thorbjorn Olesen (65) shared third spot on 204.
"I didn't drive the ball particularly well. I'm probably going to work on a few things on the range and I also felt like I hit a lot of good putts and they just didn't go in," said Northern Irishman McIlroy.
"I got off to another shaky start...the conditions were tricky out there, it was breezy. It was tough to get close to some of these pins."
McIlroy, 24, was erratic.
He landed a 220-yard six-iron within a few feet of the pin for an eagle at the third that left him grinning gleefully but there was little more to smile about for a player who seemed as though he might run away with the tournament after shooting a 63 in Thursday's first round.
Gallacher's imperious form means McIlroy may have to wait a little longer to end a 14-month title drought on the tour.
"I need to go out there, hit a few more fairways and focus on a few things in my game, not focus on what he is doing," said McIlroy who went close to claiming the $2.5 million prize for a hole-in-one at the par-four 17th.
His tee shot just missed the cup as fiancee Caroline Wozniacki looked on.
"You can't really see the pin," added McIlroy. "I saw the pitch mark and it must have just run past the hole - it could have paid for my wedding."
(Editing by Tony Jimenez)
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