Trio with point to prove at the top in Dubai

Danny Willett hitting the ball out of the bunker on the sixth hole during the third round of the Dubai Desert Classic. The Englishman, who leads a crowded leader board by a stroke, was second in last year's Race to Dubai.
Danny Willett hitting the ball out of the bunker on the sixth hole during the third round of the Dubai Desert Classic. The Englishman, who leads a crowded leader board by a stroke, was second in last year's Race to Dubai. PHOTO: REUTERS

DUBAI • Danny Willett underlined his growing stature in European golf when a second consecutive round of seven-under 65 at the Emirates Golf Club yesterday gave him sole possession of the lead going into the final round of the Dubai Desert Classic.

The Englishman broke though a tight leader board with a superb eagle on the par-five 13th hole and ended the day one shot ahead of Spain's Rafael Cabrera-Bello on 16-under 200.

Cabrera-Bello, the 2012 champion here, submitted his third straight card of 67, while England's Andy Sullivan was third, one behind the Spaniard on 202 after a round of 66. All three players have something to prove in Dubai.

Willett finished second in the Race to Dubai to Rory McIlroy after his brave attempt went down to the wire at last year's DP World Tour Championship here.

In that same tournament, a McIlroy win had denied Sullivan the title and he finished runner-up.

Cabrera-Bello's biggest moment of despair in his career came in Dubai, when he was leading the DP World Tour Championship by two shots before losing to Henrik Stenson in 2014, after he made a triple bogey on the 16th hole on Sunday.

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World No. 2 Rory McIlroy was languishing eight shots behind the leader.

The Northern Irishman was two over after a terrible front nine, but then made six birdies on the back nine to finish on 68.

Henrik Stenson, the second-highest ranked player in the field at No. 6, was one shot better than McIlroy at nine under after a 70.

Willett, who saw his ball miraculously bounce out of the water on the opening day, needed no such luck yesterday.

The world No. 20 hit the ball well, making 14 greens in regulation, but putted even better, needing just 26 putts to complete the round.

The highlight of the round was the eagle-three on the 13th hole, where he drained a curling 40-foot putt.

That came moments after he had made his only bogey of the last two rounds on the 12th hole.

Willett was delighted with his form and told reporters: "Played some great golf yesterday and today. Kept the ball under fantastic control with some cross-winds, hit it in there close. Did everything right really.

"A couple of hiccups in there today where it could have been a little different, but kept the head on and kept moving forward."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 07, 2016, with the headline 'Trio with point to prove at the top in Dubai'. Print Edition | Subscribe