His putter on form, South African great Ernie Els charged into a tie for second just one shot behind Spain’s Rafa Cabrera-Bello, who fired back-to-backs 67s to take sole possession of the lead going into the penultimate round of the Omega Dubai Desert Classic at Emirates Golf Club on ‘Pink Friday.’
Chasing his fourth title here, Els shot a bogey-free 65, highlighted by an eagle on the 18th, to join Danny Willett and Trevor Fisher Jr on nine-under, one clear of a four-man group which included Denmark’s Thorbjørn Olesen, who returned a flawless 64, the round of the tournament thus far.
Tied for second overnight, defending champion Rory McIlroy rode on a late birdie flourish to keep himself in the frame, finishing the day tied for 23rd on four-under after a level-par second round.
English prodigy James Allan created a bit of history, becoming the first MENA Golf Tour amateur to make the cut which fell at one-under as South African Thriston Lawrence, who won the tour’s 2015 Order of Merit, agonizingly missed out on his intended target by just one shot despite reeling off an eagle on the 18th.
Fresh off a tied second-place finish in last week’s Commercial Bank Qatar Masters, Cabrera-Bello has put himself pole position for a second win in the tournament following his success in 2012.
“My game really is very good at the moment,” he said. “I’m confident I’m doing all parts of the game well,” said Spaniard, who has dropped just one shot in his first 36 holes.
“Having won here before is a bonus. If it gets to the point of the last few holes on Sunday that I have a chance to win, I know I’ve done it before, so I can do it again, especially here,” he said.
“I’ve always loved these greens. I’ve putted really well here before, especially 2012. So I’m putting well, I putted really well today. I putted really well yesterday, even though I hardly holed anything yesterday, but still putted well. And today, they wanted to drop.”
A three-time winner here, Els, by his own reckoning, is loving the course. “I love this golf course. I’ve played it since ’93 so I know it well,” he said.
“I feel like I’m looking forward to the weekend. I’m not dreading the greens. That’s where I’ve been for the last two or three years since I won The Open Championship.
“I feel very different. I feel like I don’t mind making a two-footer or a four-footer. I feel I can do that, and my ball-striking has been okay. So I’m looking forward to the weekend.”
McIlroy, who is chasing a third title to match Els’s record at the Majlis course, birdied his last three holes to overcome a sluggish start which saw the world number two make the turn at three over.
“I didn’t have my best stuff with me and struggled at the start of the round and around the middle of the round. I needed something just to, first and foremost, be here for the weekend. Then birdieing the last three holes, definitely gives me a little bit of momentum going into the weekend,” said the defending champion.
“There’s a lot of players between myself and the lead but at the same time, I’ve come back from bigger deficits than this, and this is one of my favourite places.
“If I can get off to a faster start tomorrow, you never know, and I’ll get better conditions as well. I’ll be out a little earlier. The greens and the course in general got very firm and very fast out there, so hopefully I can get out in the morning and post a good score.”
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.