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11 December 2023

Westwood storms ahead in Dubai Desert Classic

England's Lee Westwood plays his second shot on the 17th hole during the third round of the Omega Dubai Desert Classic on the Majilis Course at the Emirates Golf Club in Dubai. (GETTY)


England's world number three Lee Westwood shot a five-under par 67 and surged to the top of a crowded leaderboard at the $2.5 million Omega Dubai Desert Classic on Saturday.

Overnight joint leaders Rory McIlroy and Denmark's Thomas Bjorn struggled as conditions became slightly tougher on the third day of the European Tour event, but Westwood was solid to open a one-stroke lead going into the final day.

In tied second place at 14-under par 202 was the trio of Spain's Rafael Cabrera-Bello (70), Scotland's Stephen Gallacher (68) and German Marcel Siem (68).

McIlroy was a shadow of his hitting form over the past two days and mixed four birdies with four bogeys in an even-par round of 72 which tied him for the fifth place at 203 alongside world No4 Martin Kaymer (70), Scotland's Scott Jamieson (70) and Sweden's Joel Sjoholm (66).

Bjorn, champion here in 2001 when he beat Tiger Woods in a memorable showdown, hit his second shot into the water on the par-5 18th and finished with a double bogey to be tied ninth at 12-under par 204.

Westwood was fast off the block as he made three birdies in his first four holes before sandwiching his fourth birdie on the seventh with bogeys on the sixth and eighth holes.

Making the turn at two-under, he was again three-under for the first four holes of his inward journey, which was how he finished at 67.

The Englishman, who has been a regular in this tournament since 1994 and has finished runner-up twice, said he was confident of closing the deal this time.

"I played well. I got off to a good start. The only time I dropped two shots was when I hit two poor drives - on sixth into the left rough and got a heavy lie, and eighth, when hit it into the sand on right. Other than that, I very solid and gave myself lots of birdie chances.

"The first day I was a bit sloppy, shot 69 and should have been a 66 really. Yesterday played very solidly.
And today, I played solidly again.

"It was a little bit tougher today, with a tad more breeze up and I guess a few tighter flags, but I coped fairly well with that and 67 is probably about the worst it could have been.

"I've put a lot of preparation in, so I'm entitled to be confident really. Doing a lot of hard work off the golf course. I'm doing a lot of hard work on the range and around the greens. My short game is getting a lot sharper. So why not be confident?"

McIlroy said he was surprised with his form after the way he played the first two days.

"It was pretty ragged to say the least. I think the conditions were a little tougher, the wind got up, and had not really played in wind like that all week, so that sort of put me off a little bit.

"Going to go to the range now and work on a few things, and see if I can iron it out for tomorrow," he added.