ABU DHABI: Tyrrell Hatton held on to the lead despite a third-round surge from World No3 Dustin Johnson, the US Open champion, at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship on Saturday (Sunday in Manila).
Johnson exploded into form in spectacular fashion, returning an eight-under par 64, the best round of the day, for a share of second place on 12-under par 204.
But his eagle and six birdies was not enough to dislodge England’s Hatton, in the solo lead, despite a sluggish start when he was even par for the first 10 holes of the third round with one birdie and a bogey.
Then four birdies from the 11th hole onwards gave Hatton a third-round card of four-under par 68. A closing birdie on the 18th helped him move one shot ahead of Johnson and a group of four other players at 204.
That group at tied second place included 2014 champion Pablo Larrazabal (69), Thailand’s Kiradech Aphibarnrat (70), England’s Tommy Fleetwood (70) and three-time champion and overnight leader, Martin Kaymer (72) of Germany.
The 25-year-old Hatton has shown remarkable improvement in his golf over the past one year, highlighted by his runaway win at last year’s Alfred Dunhill Links Championship at St Andrews. He then finished runner-up in the season-ending DP World Tour Championship and was fourth in the Race to Dubai.
The Englishman, now ranked 23rd in the world, carried that form into the New Year and was looking forward to locking horns with Johnson and others for his second Tour title.
“A little bit of a slow start today. Struggled a bit on the greens. Just not quite starting the ball on the lines I wanted to. But I holed a couple good putts in the end on the back nine, and hopefully that will give me some momentum going into tomorrow,” he said.
“Obviously big names are up there, so I’ve just got to focus on my game and try and play as well as I can. I love this place. It’s one of my favourite events of the year, so hopefully I can go out there tomorrow and have a good day.”
The big-hitting Johnson is renowned as one of the longest drivers of the golf ball and someone who exploits the par-5s to his advantage. On Saturday, he did make an eagle on the eighth hole, but his birdie droughts on the long holes continued.
“I played a little bit better today,” said Johnson in his usual understated way.
“The biggest difference was I drove it better. I hit a lot more fairways today than I have been. Holed a few putts. Still have to birdie a par 5, but I did make an eagle on 8 today. I chipped one in. But yeah, it was a really solid round.”
Open champion and European No1 Henrik Stenson struggled to a 71 and was still three shots behind the leader at 206 in a group that included world No9 Alex Noren (68) and England’s Lee Westwood (69). They were behind a group of five players at 205.