DUBAI – Tiger Woods’ hopes of winning the Dubai Desert Classic for a record-equalling third time were all but quashed on Saturday after he carded a third round of 70.
It was an improved performance compared to the day before for the world number one, but he was left trailing tournament leader Rory McIlory by six strokes and the Northern Irishman had yet to tee off.
Englishman Steve Webster showed the way to low scoring at the Emirates Club’s immaculate Majlis Course with a tremendous round of 64 – second best of the tournament so far.
Webster landed five birdies and an eagle in the space of eight holes from the sixth and then birdied the last three as he bounded up the leaderboard to join McIlroy at 11 under.
South Africans Dawie Van der Velt (65) and Darren Fichardt (66) also both went low to get to nine under.
That was two back off McIlroy, who followed an opening 63 on Thursday with a second round of 70, to stand one clear of his Saturday playing partner Brooks Koepka of the United States.
Three players were two shots further back – Damien McGrane of Ireland, Julien Quesne of France and Danny Willett of England.
Woods said after his second round that he needed “two great rounds” at the weekend to have any chance of winning once again at the Gulf region’s premiere golf tournament.
And while he did manage four birdies going out early in the morning they were offset by two bogeys which prevented him from mounting a real charge up the leaderboard.
Woods missed the cut in his first tournament of the year at Torrey Pines last week and admits that he is struggling to get his game together after a long winter break.
His primary target is the year’s first major, the Masters, at Augusta National in early April where he is hoping to win for a fifth time and take his 15th major title, nearly six years after his last win.
The 38-year-old Woods is chasing the all-time majors record haul of 18 set by Jack Nicklaus at the 1986 Masters when he was 46.
In contrast to Woods’ struggles early on in the new season, McIlroy has been in outstanding form and a second Dubai Desert Classic crown on Sunday after 2009 would make it two wins and a second for him in his last three tournaments.
In 23-year-old Koepka, however, he will come up against an unconventional player a year younger than him and who is at least able to match him for length off the tee.
Unusually the Floridian opted to play on the secondary European Challenge tour immediately after leaving his US college.
He won four times on that circuit to qualify for the main tour this year and is already showing how good he is.