DUBAI, Dec 20 – It is incredibly bunched with a four-way tie at the summit of the leaderboard and six players just one shot adrift as the DUBAi Open heads for a potentially nerve-wracking finish on Sunday, befitting the season finale of the Asian Tour at The Els Club.
Major champion Darren Clarke and Jbe Kruger shot matching 64s to make the biggest move on ‘moving day’, as Saturday is traditionally referred to in golfing parlance, to move firmly into contention for the title.
Going into the final day, Korea’s Wang Jeung-hun and Jbe Kruger of South Africa and the Indian duo of Arjun Atwal and Shiv Kapur are tied for the lead at 10 under with Clarke lurking behind in the chasing pack which includes Chapchai Nirat and Pariya Junhasavasdikul, both of Thailand, Daisuke Kataoka of Japan, Simon Yates of Scotland and India’s Gaganjeet Bhullar.
With just three shots separating the top 21, a stroke of genius will be needed to decide the winner. How the battle will unfold when the players hit the home stretch on Sunday, time will tell, but whatever the outcome, the fans are in for a treat of quality golf.
Two under at the start of the day, South African Kruger, who aced the par-3, second hole with a seven iron, and eagled the par-5 eighth, also rattled off seven birdies against three bogeys in his sterling round.
“When I holed out at the second, I knew something special was around the corner. It has been a long year for me, so it’s special to be able to put together a round like that,” he said Kruger.
“I am definitely excited to be in this position. It all about putting at the end of the day and if I can do that well, I think I stand a good chance,” said the South African, who pulled tractor wheels up and down a hill near his farm house to gain power.
India’s Kapur overcame a stuttering start to sign for a 69, playing the back nine with the attitude he displayed on the front nine at the 2013 Open Championship in Muirfield where he birdied six of the first seven holes in the round one.
“I came up one short of doing that when I missed my eagle putt on the last hole but I am happy with the way I fought back. There was a time where I could have completely thrown myself out of the tournament, but I'm tied for the lead, which is not too bad,” said Kapur who made a bogey-bogey start to his third round.
Atwal, Asia’s number one in 2003, has not contended since becoming the first Indian to win on the PGA Tour in 2010 and reckons the hottest putter on Sunday will walk away with the Dubai Open crown. “It’s been a while,” said the seven-time Asian Tour winner. “Just make a lot of putts. Make a lot of birdies. It’s going to be fun tomorrow I think.”
Clarke, who won the Open Championship in 2011, came to the party, matching the best score of the tournament thus far with six birdies and a chip-in eagle (par-4, 16th) in his bogey-free round.
“I’ve played really well all week but made no putts and made a mess of the last hole, the ninth yesterday (for double). Hit an awful lot of good shots and holed a couple of putts today,” said Clarke.
“I shot two 64s in a Pro Am event in Turkey two weeks ago, the Banco Classic, so I’m playing better again which is nice. I’m here to play. I’m not here to make up the numbers. My timing has been off a little bit because of all the weight that I’ve lost. So because of that, it’s taken a bit of time and it’s starting to come back now.”
England’s Joshua White kept the MENA Golf Tour flag flying, returning a 70 to move into a tie for 13th on seven-under, three ahead of fellow tour member Christopher Cannon and four better than Lee Corfield.