Four-way tie atop Dubai leaderboard

Thongchai Jaidee playing his second shot on the 18th hole yesterday. (SATISH KUMAR)

Overnight leader Thongchai Jaidee of Thailand was joined by Spaniards Miguel Angel Jimenez and Alvaro Quiros and Lee Westwood of England in a four-way tie for the lead after yesterday's third round of the Dubai Desert Classic.

Seeking what would be the biggest win of his career in the Gulf's premier tournament, the 40-year-old former army paratrooper once again went bogey-free as he compiled a round of three-under 69 and at one stage pulled three shots clear of the field.

But as he parred his way steadily down the back nine, the big guns closed in with a barrage of birdies in the near-perfect playing conditions at the Emirates Golf Club.

Defending champion Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland also stayed in contention with a 69 to stand at nine under, two shots off the pace with Edoardo Molinari of Italy (70) and Marcus Fraser of Australia (70) a further shot adrift.

Thongchai, who has found a new lease of life at 40 after overcoming severe back problems, led by one going into the third round and he moved into a three shot lead with birdies at the third, eighth and ninth.

But he played conservatively after that with nine straight pars challenging the others to come after him. Four men successfully took up the challenge. The big-hitting Quiros, tipped for the top by none other than Tom Watson, who played with him over the first two rounds, was first to reach the Thai ace at 11-under with four birdies down the back nine, including the last two holes, for a 67.

The Spaniard who is gearing up for his second tilt at the Masters in April, said that luck had played his part in his round. "To play golf well, you have to be lucky and today I was lucky," he said.

"On 17, I was trying to hit the green. I miss-hit and I was in the heavy rough and had about a 10-metres putt. I holed it. This is luck for me."

European No1 Westwood followed as he too went on the attack with birdies at 11, 13 and 15 for a 68.

The Englishman, who has risen to No4 in the world and is the highest ranking player here said that he expected "a birdie-fest" today if the overcast, calm conditions stay the same. "There are lots of good players up there," he said.

"There's so many people within three or four shots of the lead. I've even come back from six, seven, eight back, so I know what's possible."

Thongchai's playing partner, cigar-chomping Jimenez, made it a four-way tie, narrowly missing a 15-footer at the last that would have given him the outright lead. The Ryder Cup star settled for a 68.

Patience had been the key, he said, refusing to panic when it looked as though Thongchai was about to run away with the tournament.

"I told my caddie I have to keep my concentration, focus on the things that I am hitting well," he said.

"Just wait for the birdies coming, they are coming. That puts me in contention with all of these new young guys for tomorrow," said the just-turned 46-year-old.

Thongchai was not too unhappy with having let slip a three-stroke advantage saying that he felt he actually played better on the back nine than on the front nine.

Today's finale would be a shoot-out between several players, he said, including himself. "Everybody has a good chance for tomorrow."

 

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