Sergio Garcia holds nerve and lead after finishing Dubai Desert Classic third round in darkness

Already a hotspot for night golf, Emirates Golf Club introduced some pretty illustrious guests to the game on Saturday evening.

Sergio Garcia on the 14th hole during the third round of the Omega Dubai Desert Classic. Kamran Jebreili / AP Photo
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DUBAI // Already a hotspot for night golf, Emirates Golf Club introduced some pretty illustrious guests to the game on Saturday evening.

They just happened to include a pair of European Tour stalwarts, with 11 circuit victories each, a duo that share a rich Ryder Cup history and count among them the current British Open champion. Oh, and they were also vying for the 2017 Omega Dubai Desert Classic.

“At the end it was very, very dark, I’ll tell you that,” said Sergio Garcia, who finished his third round after the sun had gone down on Day 3 in Dubai. “When we were walking on 17, I thought ‘well, it will probably be a little dark but not too bad’. But then it gets dark very, very quickly here.”

Evidently. By the time Garcia traipsed down the 18th hole he was barely visible. It seemed to matter little, though, since the Spaniard birdied the two final holes to shoot 68 and move 16-under par for the tournament. Thus, he stretched his lead going into the final round to three shots.

Birdieing 18 in the darkness 

Well played @TheSergioGarcia  pic.twitter.com/Dp2qU58PV0

Henrik Stenson, the world No 4 and thus the highest-ranked player in the field, represents his closest challenger. Yet the Swede, a former Classic champion, is still a little way away because Garcia proved a dab hand in the dark.

“I couldn’t really see much on the last three shots, pretty much couldn’t see the ball land,” Garcia said. “And the last putt was a little bit of a feel and a little bit of the read that George [Coetzee, his playing partner] gave me. I’m very fortunate to be able to make it.”

In the end, they were fortunate to get the round finished. "Freakish Friday" was to blame, when a storm ripped through the emirate and forced play to be suspended. So Garcia and Stenson, and the majority of the field, returned on Saturday morning to complete their second round, then had little time to reflect before heading out for another 18. Finally, Garcia wrapped things up well after 6pm.

If he was pleased to get his card signed and his score logged, then so too was Stenson. Playing in the penultimate group and one ahead of Garcia, the 2008 winner negotiated any troubles with the lighting to fire his second onto the green on the par-5 18th. Then he casually two-putted for a fine 67. Or maybe it was harder that it looked - if you could have actually seen it.

“Happy to get the round finished,” Stenson said. “We had to rush a little bit here to get on 18 and hit it on the green in two, which is nice. Then we just tried to get that down in two.

“It’s hard with the pace in the dark, and hit it about four and a half feet by, so I had a little tester coming back. But a nice putt and closed out the day nicely.”

Now Stenson is seeking to close out the tournament. He heads out on Sunday alongside Garcia, making it three rounds from four this week in which the two buddies have shared company. For 18 holes at least, friendship will be put to one side.

“If I’m coming in two or three behind Sergio, that’s where you want to be,” Stenson said. “Try and apply some pressure on the front nine. Any time you can be within a couple shots heading into the back nine, you can make it happen.”

Ian Poulter could make something happen as well. The Englishman, playing in Dubai for the first time in nine years, sits five off the lead in tied-third with Thailand’s Prom Meeswat, after three birdies in his final four holes on Saturday gave him a 67 and an 11-under total.

“I’m quietly confident,” said Poulter with typical swagger. “I wouldn’t say I feel like I’m on my A Game, but I’m doing my job. That’s all I can do right now: slowly but surely try to get in contention and see what happens.”​

jmcauley@thenational.ae

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