Danny Willett barely took his foot off the pedal all day and fired back-to-back 65s to take one-shot lead going into the final round of the Omega Dubai Desert Classic at Emirates Golf Club on Saturday. One behind at the start, the 28-year-old Englishman mixed six birdies and an eagle with a bogey — his first in his last 31 holes — to reach 16-under for the tournament, one clear of overnight leader Rafa Cabrera-Bello of Spain and two ahead of his compatriot Andy Sullivan.
South African great Ernie Els, placed tied second overnight, slipped into a tie for 28th on seven under after a third-round 74 while defending champion Rory McIlroy returned a 68, highlighted by six birdies on the back nine, to move to joint 21st on eight-under.
MENA Golf Tour prodigy James Allan continued his impressive run, carding a 70 to post five-under for the tournament, four behind Bryson DeChambeau, the only other amateur in the field.
It was Willett, who dominated the proceedings though the honour of firing the round of the day, a 64, went to Joachim B. Hansen, a last-minute replacement for Denmark’s Thomas Bjorn, who was forced to pull out due to back injury.
“I played great golf today. I played really well yesterday (Friday) and kept the foot down and could have been a couple better today. I’m delighted,” said Willett, a three-time winner on the European Tour.
“I kept the ball under fantastic control with some crosswinds and did everything right really. I had couple of hiccups in there today where it could have been a little different but I kept the head on and kept moving forward,” said the Englishman who rolled in a curling 30-foot putt for an eagle on the 13th.
“I think mentally, I feel like I’m very much in control of myself, which obviously helps. And swing-wise, I’ve got a few things that I’m trying to do. I’m trying to keep it as simple as possible and let the mind be a little bit calmer, and it seems to be working so far.
“It’s a great golf event. I think the atmosphere around this golf course is fantastic, second to none. There are little gathering areas around tee boxes and greens, and we get a lot of support.”
Cabrera-Bello is a man in form after finishing in a tie for second at last week’s Commercial Bank Qatar Masters, and he looked inspired early in his round when he holed a brilliant bunker shot for eagle on the third and followed it with a birdie.
Dropped shots on the seventh and 12th stalled his progress but he rallied with birdies on the 14th and 17th to emerge as Willett’s nearest challenger.
Sullivan began his tournament with a double bogey on Thursday but has not dropped a shot in the following 53 holes, and a 66 on Saturday kept the Englishman well in the hunt for a fourth European Tour title.
Dutchman Joost Luiten was then at 13 under thanks to a 67, a shot clear of South African Haydn Porteous and two ahead of Australia’s Scott Hend and England’s Chris Wood.
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 and 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.