Tiger out to scratch away past losses

The world No 1 is tied with Anders Hansen at the top and itching to make it third time lucky in the desert
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The Independent Online

"I forgot to bring my clippers and it was itching like hell," he said, but that is not the only itch Tiger has been yearning to scratch in the United Arab Emirates. Incredibly, the 30-year-old has played here twice before and has still to win; Woods doesn't believe disasters come in threes.

And, make no mistake, it would be a personal disaster if Woods does not prevail today, despite Retief Goosen lying one shot behind him and joint leader Anders Hansen on 16 under and the familiar figure of Ernie Els lurking once more on 14 under.

All week Woods has looked more determined than ever as his form has wavered but his conviction has stiffened. Yesterday was a case in point. Nothing much happened on the front nine, except a "regulation" four on the par-five third and a bogey on the eighth that negated his three on the par-four sixth. So on the 10th tee he found himself three behind his playing partners, Goosen and Hansen, and not where he wanted to be.

But where other professionals panic, Woods simply grinds on and lets the birdies start arriving. By the time he had reached the par-five 18th and hit the almighty out of his four-iron second over the lake, over the green and into the grandstand, he sensed that an up-and-downer from the drop zone for a 67 would be enough to head the field. He duly obliged, pitching to four feet, and Hansen will have the "honour" of an ominous rival in today's final group.

Not that the 35-year-old should be discounted too readily. The manner in which Hansen coped with playing with Woods and Goosen was admirable, not least because of all the furore surrounding a Dane taking centre stage in a Muslim country.

"I'm proud of the way I held myself up, because you know it was a tough situation," said the former PGA champion after his 69. "I haven't played with Tiger before."

In the event, then, he would have likely taken losing out to Woods on the day by just two shots, while bettering Goosen by one.

The South African was ruing a sloppy chipping game for the three bogeys on the back nine that gave away the advantage he had built up with three earlier birdies. But, as he said, "I'm still right in it, especially if the wind gets up", a likelihood that was also affording some comfort to a countryman.

By rights Els should just be satisfied to be back in contention after recovering from the knee injury that kept him out for four months last year. But that is not the Big Easy's way. "You know the way I'm swinging it, the way I'm hitting it, I'm going to shoot low tomorrow," he said after a 68 sent him into a three-way tie for fourth with Australia's Richard Green and the fast-finishing Spaniard Miguel Angel Jimenez. "Yeah, that's what I'm going to do."

If only Nick Dougherty could be so definite. The Liverpudlian struck a rather disconsolate pose for someone who had just birdied four of the last five holes to finish with a 70 and so rescue the situation at 13 under. "It's the same old thing, inconsistency," he lamented, grimacing at the two bogeys and a double bogey on the sixth that blighted his front nine.

"The start was not how I pictured it going at all. My confidence was a little bit battered out there."

It could be worse, though, he could be John Daly. The Wild Thing faces yet another fine from the US Tour - wow, he makes their accountant's heart sing - for walking off mid-round at the FBR Open on Friday night. He claimed it was food poisoning, but his playing partners confirmed they weren't aware of it.

As Scottsdale is known to attract 150,000 fans a day on the weekend, Tim Finchem, the US Tour commissioner, will be understandably furious that the People's Champion did not complete.

Daly has bigger problems, however. Two weeks ago his wife, Sherrie Miller, began a five-month prison sentence for money laundering, and then his beloved trailer was nicked. Another chapter for the book.

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