Hansen takes lead but Tiger stays in the hunt

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The Independent Online

It was anything but fair on an honest, head-down professional such as Anders Hansen to suggest it, but his presence on top of the Desert Classic leaderboard was the last thing the organisers wanted. A Dane in the Middle East during this of all weeks. Enough said.

If the irrelevant fact of Hansen's nationality made their job harder to keep this a purely sporting story, then the 35-year-old's best-of-the-week 63 palpably did not. It was one of those rounds that was inevitable from the moment his ball connected with the middle of his putter, as nine birdies on a blemish-free card took him to 13-under and up alongside the overnight leader, Retief Goosen.

"Sometimes I get in these modes when I just feel it," said the former PGA champion. "I was even laughing on the 14th and my caddie asked me why and I would not tell him. I just felt I could not go wrong. What a feeling." In contrast, Goosen was aware that it could so easily have gone wrong; not on the course so much - his 67 neatly consolidating his opening 64 - but more importantly on one of Surrey's roads. On Thursday afternoon, the South African's three-year-old son, Leo, was in a car driven by his nanny when it was written off in a collision.

"Everyone's fine, luckily," he said, before confessing he had got hardly any sleep thinking about it. It was his 37th birthday yesterday, yet he planned to have an early night, with thoughts of a final-hole eagle to aid his slumber. Best think of the three-iron that crept over the lake on the par-five 18th than the golfer sharing third place with Nick Dougherty and Australia's Richard Green. If his identity is ominous, then his hunger for a first Desert Classic title is doubly so.

For after making up a shot on Goosen, he looked like he had just shot the cat, not a 66. He snarled, he grimaced, he answered principally in "yeses" and "noes" - but mainly "noes" - and then at the end of the day he noticed there were only two ahead of him. Yes, Tiger Woods really is a one-off.

Which other billionaire could you possibly feel sympathy for after watching him move to 11-under at a tournament in which he happens to be receiving $3m (£1.69m)?

Only Tiger. His reaction after starting off like a steam train and finishing like the Northern Line in rush hour signified that here is a competitor spurred on purely by victory. "I turned a great round into just any old other round," he lamented, surveying a scorecard that had him six under for the first seven holes, but then just level par for the next 11. "Gee, it's frustrating."

His anger manifested itself rather more colourfully on the fourth (his 13th) as he watched his ball fly towards the lake on the right of the par-three and he realised that some of the good work that began with his eagle on his first hole was about to be undone. Never has a man been so down about finding water in the desert.

As evidence, take the following exchange. "Tiger, do you remember being so downbeat after a 66 before?" "Yes," he barked back. "When?" "Firestone." "Which year?" "Last year."

The record books confirm that he did indeed fire that number in the first round of the NEC Invitational. It will also confirm that he won that prestigious World Golf Championship event. No wonder all but his fellow greats are in total awe.

Dougherty certainly is, and his ever-present smile was even wider than usual when figuring that his own 66 meant he would be out with Woods today. "I've never played with him and I can't wait," he said. Alas, because of the necessity to finish the second round this morning - fog delayed the start meaning six golfers could not beat the dusk - the third round will be played in three-balls. So Dougherty must wait. In this mood, it might just prove a lucky escape.

l In Arizona, Steve Lowery and Alex Cejka both shot 65s to lead by one shot after the first round of the FBR Open in Scottsdale.

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