Paul Casey in pole position to add to wins 'down the road' after stunning finish at Omega Dubai Desert Classic
Englishman leads from Robert MacIntyre, Brandon Stone and Sergio Garcia going into final round
A two-time winner “down the road”, Paul Casey understands well what adding the Omega Dubai Desert Classic to his CV would mean on Sunday.
The Englishman, 43, had just put the exclamation mark on his best-ever score around Emirates Golf Club, following a chip-in birdie on 17 with a sublime eagle on the last.
When Saturday's third round was done and dusted, Casey sat perched at the summit on 15-under, from where he enjoys a one-stroke lead over the fast-rising Robert MacIntyre. Brandon Stone lurks two back, before a little gap is halted by Sergio Garcia, a former champion, on 10-under.
Casey didn’t have to look too far to see his Ryder Cup teammate’s 2017 achievement writ large, since the tournament’s formidable roll of honour is there for all to see, near the 18th green.
That list includes Garcia, Tiger Woods, Seve Ballesteros, Ernie Els and Rory McIlroy, among plenty of other notables. Little wonder Casey, whose two of 14 European Tour wins were secured in Abu Dhabi, has the bit between his teeth to nestle alongside them.
“I've won just down the road; I've never won in Dubai," Casey said. "It's iconic. Behind you, I can see the very impressive list of winners, those photos of them behind the 18th green.
“It's cool. Iconic trophy. Iconic event. Dubai has given so much to golf, especially European Tour. So yeah, that would be very, very cool.”
Casey's approach to the final green could be ranked as that, too. It wasn’t quite Colin Montgomerie’s tournament-winning driver from the fairway in 1996, but it could go some way to eliciting the same result when all is said and done, 25 years on.
“It's a glorious finish,” Casey said. “I said to [my caddie] Johnny [McLaren] on the fairway there, that was a cool-looking shot when Monty hit a driver off the deck without the skyline you get now, and it might be cooler now with the skyline.
“It's one of the iconic shots in golf, isn't it? To have a perfect 3-iron in there and finish off with an eagle is pretty cool.”
MacIntrye, though, might be the man to ratchet up the heat on Casey. The Scot, the Tour’s 2019 Rookie of the Year, had what he described as an “eventful” third round on Saturday, a 67 that included an eagle, six birdies, a bogey and even a double-bogey.
Irrespective of that, MacIntyre stated boldly that confidence is as high as it’s ever been. Which is just as well, since the 24-year-old doesn’t plan to reign in anything in his hunt for a second victory on the circuit.
“Same as always: go for it,” he said. “I'm not going to hang about. I'm going to put it all on the line whether it's good or bad. But tomorrow, hopefully it's going to be good.
"I've just got to enjoy it again. It's another experience that I want to get. It's something that not many people get the chance at my age to do, and I'll give it everything I've got.”
Like Casey, MacIntyre appreciates the Desert Classic’s collection of past champions, saying it would be “unbelievable” to add his name to the distinguished directory.
The same goes for Stone, whose 66 left him well placed for a run at the Dallah Trophy.
“The list of illustrious winners that has won here before is obviously incredible, but at the same time the golf course has its own history and the event itself has that prestige around it,” said the South African, a three-time winner on tour.
“So you always want to be playing against the best players, but you want to be playing on the best courses and winning the best tournaments. I've given myself the opportunity to do that tomorrow.”
Updated: January 30, 2021 06:52 PM