DUBAI — Sergio Garcia birdied the last — his 33rd hole of the day — in darkness to surge three clear of the field going into the final round of the Omega Dubai Desert Classic at Emirates Golf Club on Saturday.
On a marathon day when 65 players needed to squeeze in more than 18 holes of play after high winds forced suspension of play on Friday, the 37-year-old Spaniard completed his second round with a five-under 67 and followed it with a solid 68 to reach 16-under for the tournament.
Snapping on his heels was Sweden’s Henrik Stenson, who surged up the leaderboard with a third-round 67 with England’s Ian Pouler and Prom Meesawat sharing third on 11-under as three players were still to complete their round when play was suspended for the day at 6.30pm.
As things were hotting up at the top, MENA Golf Tour prodigy Rayhan Thomas also made his presence, becoming the second UAE-based amateur golfer after Matthew Turner (2009) to make the cut in the ‘Major of the Middle East.’
The 17-year-old backed up his opening 68 with a 75 and 74 to finish the day in a tie for 54 alongside Scotland’s Paul Lawrie, best known for winning The Open in 1999.
“It was awesome to make the cut, but I wasn’t really thinking about it. Overall, pretty happy with my game. There are plenty of positives to take into the final round. If I can get myself back into red figures on Sunday, I’ll be happy,” said Thomas.
It was Garcia who put himself in pole position for a shot at the iconic Dallah, as the giant coffee pot-shaped trophy is called in Arabic. “I have a chance of winning the Omega Dubai Desert Classic which is a great event. I'm going to give it my all tomorrow,” said Garcia after racking up a birdie-birdie finish.
"At the end it was very, very dark, I'll tell you that. When we were walking on 17, I thought, well, it will probably be a little dark but not too bad.
"But then it gets dark very, very quickly here. I couldn't really see much on the last three shots. I pretty much couldn't see the ball land and the last putt was a little bit of a feel and a little bit of the read that George gave me and I'm very fortunate to be able to make it.
"It wasn't easy, a little shaky here and there at the beginning but the back nine was great. A lot of good shots, a lot of good putts.”
Stenson, who also played 33 holes in completing rounds of 68-67, sounded pleased with his day’s work. "It's great to be in the last match tomorrow," he said. "I'm three behind Sergio so that's where I want to be to try and apply some pressure on the front nine.
"Anytime you can be within a couple of shots heading into the back nine, you can make it happen.
"I'm happy to get the round finished. We had to rush a little bit here to get on 18 and hit it on the green in two, which is nice. Then we just tried to get that down in two.
"It's hard with the pace in the dark and I hit it about four and a half feet by so I had a little tester coming back. But a nice putt and closed out the day nicely.
"It's been really good when it's been on and then there's been some very poor shots in between but I managed to save myself a lot. I'm very pleased with the way I rolled it for the three rounds and I hope I can keep on doing that tomorrow."
Elsewhere, Grégory Bourdy of France produced shot of the day, acing the 11th with an eight iron as England’s Zane Scotland, the most prolific winner on the MENA Golf Tour, missed the cut by just one shot.
The Omega Dubai Desert Classic is backed by OMEGA as the title sponsor and Emirates Global Aluminium PJSC as sponsor. The co-sponsors are: CNN, Drydocks World, Emirates NBD, Gulf News, JA Resorts & Hotels, Mercedes-Benz and wasl, while Dubai Duty Free, Neocasa Interiors and Motivate Publishing are the Patrons in golf in DUBAi's drive to showcase the emirate's vibrant golfing scene to a worldwide audience.