Golf: Swede takes a healthy lead

MAYBE Robert Karlsson is right. Too much time watching the leaderboards can make you wonder how a bunch of sick, injured and even sleepy golfers can be playing so well, not to mention when all those major champions are going to make a major move.

No, much better to ignore the whole lot. By doing so Karlsson, with a third-round 67, took a two-shot lead at 18 under par in the Dubai Desert Classic. The good news is that the two previous occasions he has been in front at this stage the 28-year-old Swede has gone on to victory.

The less than cheerful news (for Karlsson) is that the leaderboard is stuffed fuller of delicious morsels than a box of Belgian chocolates. Ignacio Garrido, the Spanish Ryder Cup player, was two strokes back, with Jose Maria Olazabal and Ernie Els three behind, Ian Woosnam on 14 under and Greg Norman one further back.

Olazabal and Woosnam both scored rounds of 65, seven under. For the Welshman, the first 45 holes of the tournament were calm enough, in contrast to the 30 minutes before his tea-time on Thursday when his alarm clock, mistakenly set for an hour too late, finally went off.

But an inward half of 31 with six birdies left Woosnam with a chance to capture a title he should have claimed last year. Then, Woosie sank his approach in the water at the last and then lost a play-off to Richard Green. Now he said: "I haven't played my best golf, but I am scoring well thanks to an old putter I have started using again."

Olazabal's back nine was even more dramatic, consisting of six birdies, two pars and a bogey. Still suffering from a throat infection which had eased but was still severe, Olazabal produced a heroic performance as when he returned after 18 months away from the game here a year ago and also shot a 65 in the third round. "It is going to be difficult to win taking into account my condition but also the number of players close to the lead," he said.

If this title is destined for a player who almost did not compete in the event then Olazabal and Woosnam are not the only contenders. Paul McGinley, with a pulled rib cartilage, needed painkillers before shooting a 64 to get to 12 under par. Fittingly for a man sponsored by Bupa, he has had intensive treatment and managed to find an extra 30 yards on his game yesterday.

"Rest is what it needs, but I can play on without doing any permanent damage - it is just a matter of how much pain you can stand," the Irishman said.

After eight previous visits to this tournament, the players have come to know every sand dune of the Emirates course. The scoring has always been low, Els and Fred Couples holding the tournament record with a total of 268, 20 under par. Colin Montgomerie was 18 under in winning two years ago, but after three rounds of his season's debut, the Scot is well off the pace at seven under.

"This is a putting contest and I have not putted well," Monty said. "It's disappointing that there is less rough than in previous years and also that they have put some of the tees forward." He had a point. Only four of the 83 weekend qualifiers are over par after three rounds. Birdie fest or not, the quality of the leaderboard promises an exciting denouement today.

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