Big Easy stays in the hunt

DUBAI: Ernie Els suffered a few hiccups but managed to stay in the hunt for his fifth title of the year yesterday, carding a three-under-par 69 in the Dubai Desert Classic’s third round. 

Despite stumbling with bogeys at the fourth, ninth and at the last, the big-hitting South African resurrected his score with four birdies in seven holes after the turn to finish at 13-under 203. 

That left the defending champion tied for the lead with playing partner Alastair Forsyth of Scotland and England’s David Lynn, who also returned 69s on a day of tugging winds and quickening greens at the Emirates Golf Club. 

“I played pretty well today, except for a couple of mistakes on the first nine,” said world number two Els, who has won four times in six starts this year, plus one second place. 

“But I felt the golf course was playing a bit different from the first two days.  

“The wind picked up for a while, some of the flag positions were crazy and the greens were firm – at least two feet quicker today. 

“I feel I’m swinging it well and mentally I’ve been pretty good, even though I made a few mistakes today by being over-aggressive.” 

Welshman Ian Woosnam, who reeled off three consecutive birdies round the turn, returned a 70 to share fourth place with Thailand’s Thongchai Jaidee (67) and South Korea’s Kevin Na (68) at 11-under 205. 

Another Welshman, Ryder Cup player Phillip Price, fired a 68 to lie a further shot back in a tie for seventh with Dutchman Robert-Jan Derksen, a 67, and 2001 winner Thomas Bjorn of Denmark, who also shot a 68. 

Els and Forsyth had been level with Lynn and Finland’s Mikko Ilonen at the top of the leaderboard overnight, and most spectators swarming across the edge of the palm tree-lined fairways expected the in-form South African to break clear early on. 

But it was the 26-year-old Forsyth, winner of last year’s Malaysian Open, who made the first significant move by eagling the 530-yard third to get to 12 under. 

That put him one clear of twice US Open champion Els, who birdied the same hole. 

Both players dropped shots at the par-three fourth, where they were foiled by a treacherous pin position, but Els sank a 15-foot birdie putt at the par-four fifth to regain a share of the lead with the Scot. 

Forsyth hit back with successive birdies on seven and eight and, when Els dropped his third shot of the tournament after three-putting at the 463-yard ninth, the Scot was three strokes clear of the chasing pack. 

However Els rammed home a 15-foot putt for birdie at the short 11th to close to within two of the lead, and then reeled off three successive birdies from the 15th to snatch back the lead from Forsyth. 

Els, for the second day in a row, then found trouble at the last. 

His six-iron approach from 195 yards ended up on a wall fringing the water, his third shot flew across to beyond the other side of the green from where he was unable to get up and down to salvage his par. 

“I haven’t played the 18th very well this week,” said a rueful Els. “My second shot came out a bit stiff and ended up only a yard short and then I messed it up even more with the third shot. That fourth shot, down the grain, was very tough. 

“Still, I’m in there with Alastair and I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing tomorrow and hopefully I will make less mistakes.” – Reuters 

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