Els stutters at first as Monty keeps Augusta dream alive

An uncharacteristic blunder from Ernie Els helped Spain's Miguel Angel Jimenez retain the lead in the Dubai Desert Classic here yesterday.

An uncharacteristic blunder from Ernie Els helped Spain's Miguel Angel Jimenez retain the lead in the Dubai Desert Classic here yesterday.

Els, the world No 3, who was second at the halfway stage and without a bogey in his first 36 holes, four-putted from only 20 feet on the opening green of his third round. After charging his birdie attempt four feet past, Els saw his second putt slide two feet past and then, without stepping back and lining it up properly, he missed the third as well.

The South African did come back with seven birdies for a 67 and a 15-under-par total of 201, but Jimenez's closing birdie - after only just carrying the lake in front of the green - takes him into the final day one ahead after a bogey-free 68.

Els admitted: "I looked a bit foolish [at the first]. You are never too old to learn and you have to respect the old game. I felt so good on the range and didn't feel I missed a shot, but I never want to start with a bogey, and to make a double is just a disaster." The only explanation he could come up with was that the practice green was quicker and he did not make the adjustment.

Colin Montgomerie, who began the season 81st in the world and is currently ranked 63rd, needs to finish second today on his own to propel him into the top 50 so that he can play in this month's Players' Championship in Florida and next month's Masters at Augusta. He made sure he kept within striking distance of the leading pair with the best round of the day, a 66 that took him to 13 under par, three shots behind Jimenez.

Montgomerie would have been right in the thick of it if things had gone his way on the last four greens. His ball hung on the edge of the 15th hole and then he lipped out three times, including a 10-foot eagle attempt on the last.

"They were four glorious chances, but never mind," said Montgomerie. "I can't feel bad about a 66 and I hit the ball fantastic, as I have the last two months.

"It's exciting for me. I spent the last three years trying to hit the ball too hard. I was playing somebody else's game and not my own. Now I'm back playing my own."

In Singapore, playing his first tournament of the season, Montgomerie led but finished second to Nick Dougherty. In Australia, in his second event, he led again but fell away to 11th. At the US Tour's Nissan Open in Los Angeles two weeks ago he had his lowest-ever score in America, a 64 in the second round, but never got to hit another shot because of rain.

The Welshman Stephen Dodd, who broke his European Tour duck at the age of 38 by winning the China Open in November, lies fourth on 12 under after a 69.

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