DUBAI // The risk-and-reward factor that was not brought into play on the final hole at last year's Dubai World Championship produced the defining moment on a riveting third day of play yesterday - to the benefit of Ian Poulter, who will take a two-shot advantage into today's final round.
Poulter was one ahead of his playing partner Ross Fisher as the two Englishmen strode off the 18th tee to take their bows from a crowd who had been treated to some outstanding golf from the cream of the European Tour.
The long-hitting Fisher took advantage of the use of one of the forward tee boxes for the first time to hit a booming drive which created the opportunity to reach the green on 18 with his fairway wood from about 250 yards away.
He duly hit the green, but only just. His ball, drifting left as it descended on its target, fell away into a watery grave, leaving a disconsolate Fisher with the most awkward of downhill, breaking putts as he sought to get close enough to save par.
It was not to be. Fisher missed from 15 feet, Poulter, who had taken the conservative route to the green after driving into the left-hand rough, made his safe par and secured a welcome cushion from a chasing pack of big names as he aims to follow his victory in Hong Kong last weekend with an even bigger triumph.
"Ross was in the driving seat down the last after hitting a much better drive than me, so he was always going to go for it," said Poulter, grateful that his rival's gamble failed.
A naturally self-assured - some would say brash - player, Poulter fancies his chances of converting his two-shot lead into the 13th title of his professional career, the biggest of which so far is the WGC Match Play Championship, which he captured last February.
"I'm playing well," he said after posting a three-under-par 69 to stand at 12 under through 54 holes. "I had a couple of soft bogeys today [on the fifth and 10th]. If I don't make mistakes like those tomorrow, I'm in with a great chance to win this tournament. I'm coming into this week in great form and with a lot of confidence."
Fisher's late lapse relegated him from outright second and another date with Poulter this afternoon into a three-way tie at 10 under with his Ryder Cup colleague Francesco Molinari and Thailand's Thongchai Jaidee.
"It's a shame that second shot didn't come off," Fisher said. "It would have got me level with Poults going into tomorrow. But there were a lot of positives out there and I'm still only two off the lead."
Three off the lead are Robert Karlsson, who won the European Tour's Order of Merit in 2008 and Lee Westwood, who topped the money list last year under its Race to Dubai re-branding.
Karlsson maintained that he played as well yesterday as he did on Friday when he posted a 75. Delighted to have holed the third-round putts that were lipping out in the second round, and to have shot a 67, he surveyed the leader board and reflected: "It's bunching up a bit. It's going to be difficult but there's all to play for."
Spain's Alvaro Quiros and Paul Casey, the fourth Englishman in the top eight, are entitled to have similar thoughts going into today's concluding round.
They will set off together four shots off the pace looking for a late charge, as will Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy who fought his way back into contention with a sparkling 66 and is five back.