DUBAI // Robert Karlsson relished his roller-coaster ride on the Earth Course yesterday, the Swede experiencing more highs than lows as he set the early Dubai World Championship pace with a seven-under-par 65.
Eight birdies and an eagle on the long 14th suggested he was on the way to a record-breaking score, but his momentum was slowed by a trio of bogies, including one at the last which he had marched down holding a two-stroke lead.
That late lapse left him one shot adrift of Lee Westwood's tournament best of 64 in the final round of last year, but still gave him a one-stroke advantage over the rest of the 60-man field led by South Korea's Seung-Yul Noh, who will accompany him in this afternoon's final two-ball.
It was Karlsson's first competitive round on the Earth course, having missed the tournament last year with an eye problem.
"I didn't know that much about the course, except that I knew there had been a lot of low scores last year," said Karlsson, who topped the European money list in 2008 just before its rebranding as the Race to Dubai.
"I think it's one of those courses that, when you're playing well, it's easy to get close to the pins. But when I missed the greens it was difficult to save myself. That's why my scoring was erratic."
"The greens are more receptive at this time of the year than in January and February," added Karlsson, winner of the Qatar Masters at the start of this year.
Karlsson dominated his twoball with Denmark's Anders Hansen, who posted a two-over par 74, but that was not the case when Noh made his challenge for the lead in an Asian showdown with Thongchai Jaidee, of Thailand.
Noh traded shot for shot with his more experienced Asian colleague for the first 15 holes before converting his fifth and sixth birdies of the day to take the clubhouse lead.
Noh, speaking through an interpreter, was as pleased as much by avoiding a bogey as he was by nailing his birdie putts.
"I had some tricky areas when I thought I might have made bogey or maybe more, but I defended quite well," he said
While Noh is relishing claiming his reward of going out last today, Jaidee's prize for fourth place after a round of seven birdies and three bogeys is to go out in the penultimate pairing with Martin Kaymer, the favourite to win the Race.
"I feel very confident," said Jaidee. "My putting is improving and my irons are even better."
0730 Retief Goosen (Rsa), Jamie Donaldson (Wal)
0740 Danny Willett (Eng), Peter Hanson (Swe)
0750 Peter Lawrie (Ire), Robert Rock (Eng) ?0800 Edoardo Molinari (Ita), Rhys Davies (Wal)
0810 Oliver Wilson (Eng), Fredrik A Hed (Swe)? 0820 Thomas Bjorn (Den), John Parry (Eng)
0830 Luke Donald (Eng), Padraig Harrington (Ire) ?0840 Anders Hansen (Den), Matteo Manassero (Ita)
0850 Damien McGrane (Ire), Soren Hansen (Den)? 0900 Ernie Els (Rsa), Louis Oosthuizen (Rsa)
0915 Simon Khan (Eng), Stephen Gallacher (Sco)? 0925 Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano (Spa), Gareth Maybin (NI)
0935 Richie Ramsay (Sco), Ignacio Garrido (Spa)? 0945 Johan Edfors (Swe), Chris Wood (Eng)
0955 Alvaro Quiros (Spa), Graeme McDowell (NI)? 1005 Richard Green (Aus), Gregory Havret (Fra)
1015 Simon Dyson (Eng), Joost Luiten (Ned) ?1025 Marcus Fraser (Aus), Gregory Bourdy (Fra)
1035 Rory McIlroy (NI), Francesco Molinari (Ita) ?1045 Darren Clarke (NI), Ross Fisher (Eng)
1100 YE Yang (Kor), Brett Rumford (Aus)? 1110 Robert-Jan Derksen (Ned), Soren Kjeldsen (Den)
1120 Miguel Angel Jimenez (Spa), Paul Casey (Eng) ?1130 Raphael Jacquelin (Fra), David Horsey (Eng)
1140 Thomas Aiken (Rsa), Gary Boyd (Eng) ?1150 Ian Poulter (Eng), Lee Westwood (Eng)
1200 Charl Schwartzel (Rsa), A Canizares (Spa)? 1210 Sergio Garcia (Spa), Henrik Stenson (Swe)
1220 Thongchai Jaidee (Tha), Martin Kaymer (Ger) ?1230 Seung-Yul Noh (Kor), Robert Karlsson (Swe)