McGinley pegs back O'Meara with final putt

Dubliner shares lead in Dubai Classic thanks to birdie on 18th
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The Independent Online

Paul McGinley has always possessed a jaunty quick-step of a walk, but even so the Irishman positively shifted between the 17th green and the 18th tee of the Emirates course. As darkness des-cended with the guillotine-like swiftness of the desert, the rush was on to complete the third round of the Dubai Desert Classic.

And for McGinley it was well worth it. Having put his third shot at the par-five finishing hole over the green into the rough in front of the grandstand, the Dubliner promptly chipped in for his birdie. It meant McGinley was able to draw level with his playing partner, Mark O'Meara, who left his birdie putt at the last short to leave the pair on 14 under par.

McGinley was the over-night leader and had kept his nose in front until the American made three birdies in a row from the 14th. However, the Irishman deserved to share the lead with a round to play after a 69 in which he did not drop a stroke.

With the course firming up and the greens a lot quicker than on the first two days, scoring was higher than earlier in the week and O'Meara's 68 was only one outside the best score of the day, from England's Andrew Marshall.

O'Meara has been a regular visitor to Dubai since winning the Masters and the Open in 1998. Those were his last official victories, although he also won the World Matchplay at Wentworth the same season. It was O'Meara who persuaded his friend Tiger Woods to play here in 2001, and O'Meara also showed up last year when the world No 1 was supposed to compete but withdrew due to the imminent war in Iraq.

For once O'Meara was not travelling TWA - Tiger Woods Airways - as he had been in Florida nursing a back injury and the pain of a number of missed cuts. Woods journeyed direct from California after winning the Accenture World Matchplay last Sunday.

For successive tournaments to be 12 time zones apart is not the best of scheduling, but Woods does not seem to suffer from jet lag, which Darren Clarke, after his third-place finish at La Costa, blamed for missing the cut here.

Of course, Woods has been put up in the best suite in a luxury seven-star hotel, but he has been busy too, playing in an exhibition match, the pro-am, doing a junior clinic and visiting the USS George Washington with O'Meara. He has been paid in the region of $2.5m (£1.4m) for his trouble, but yesterday he again looked like a green-fee payer in wanting to see as much of the course as possible.

Woods maintains his driving is not a problem, and perhaps it is not when you can yank your tee-shot at the eighth into bushes on the left of the fairway and then magic a recovery on to the green and hole a 60-footer for birdie.

Woods scored a 69, and somehow has had only one hole over par in each of the first three rounds. At eight under par he is six behind the leaders, who hold a three-stroke advantage over Brian Davis, who is a further two ahead of Paul Casey, Bradley Dredge and Simon Dyson.

Ernie Els played like a man with jet lag despite the fact he did not go to La Costa and finished at six under, alongside Colin Montgomerie, who had a lacklustre day playing with Woods until the Scot eagled the last.

Els, twice the champion here, lost to Robert-Jan Derksen last year, while in 2001 Woods found the water at the last to lose to Thomas Bjorn. That year Tiger and Bjorn played together in all four rounds, and O'Meara and McGinley will do so again here.

On Friday, while catching up after all the fog delays, they conjured 24 birdies between them in 24 holes. Yesterday they both opened with six pars before both birdieing the seventh and eighth holes.

McGinley has not won since 2001, the year he qualified for the Ryder Cup team before holing the winning putt at The Belfry when it was played a year later. However, around the same time he suffered the "worst six months of my career", and 18 months ago went back to the coaching of Bob Torrance. This meant several trips to Largs, which this winter he combined with watching Celtic's home games.

"It was nice to chip in to finish, but the golf course completely changed today," McGinley said. "It got faster and was playing like a major. The door has not been closed on anyone. Someone could come from six or seven back. But if you can't enjoy the atmosphere of a big tournament with lots of top players here then you are in the wrong profession."

O'Meara, who now putts with his own gripping style called "The Saw" - "It ran out of gas on that putt at the last" - simply could not remember when he was in a similar position. "I'm just thankful to be here," said the 47-year-old. "It's been a while."