Over the past few years, professional golfers around the world have found out that it is rather difficult to beat Henrik Stenson, particularly when he hits as many as 79 per cent greens in regulation in a tournament.
That was the Swede’s tally at the Majlis course, but at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, he had to settle for the bridesmaid’s role against another supreme ball-striker, Sergio Garcia.
The Spaniard was a popular winner, leading from the start to the end, and never looked threatened even as Stenson made his move on the final day.
Starting the day leading by three shots, the only way someone could have reined in Garcia would have been if he made mistakes. But showing steely resolve in a tournament where he never finished inside the top-10 in his seven earlier appearances, the 37-year-old fired a bogey-free round of three-under par 69 for his 12th European Tour triumph.
World No4 Stenson finished second at 16-under par after submitting a card of 69 himself, but he faltered at a crunch moment in his battle against the world No15, who is now expected to rise to No9 on Monday.
There were two key moments – the first came when Garcia saved a stunning par on the eighth hole after pushing his drive into the desert, and the second when Stenson lost his momentum with a bogey on the par-3 15th hole.
Garcia started the day with a birdie on the first hole, but Stenson restored the original gap with one of his own on the sixth.
On the eighth, it could have been disaster, but Garcia hit a superb second shot from the dirt, and made his par.
“Obviously, eighth was a big moment for me. Maybe, because I was in pretty good control. I was 1-under, fairly easily through the first seven, and not really missing many shots,” said Garcia.
“And then I hit that terrible drive. To be able to save par there was big mentally. Even though I hit such a poor drive, that par save was probably better than if I would have hit a good drive, a really nice iron shot to 12 feet and two-putted. It was like a little boost.
“And it was a little bit of a wake-up call for me, too, because it was like, ‘Gosh, what’s happening here’. I mean, obviously I felt so comfortable throughout that I probably didn’t focus as much as I should have.”
With a birdie on ninth, Garcia again increased the advantage to four shots over Stenson, who replied with three birdies and a bogey in five holes after the turn to close the gap to two.
On the 15th, Stenson overshot the green and failed to make his up-and-down for par, whereas Garcia hit a stunning tee shot to two feet and made a birdie for a two-shot swing.
Stenson, who won the tournament in 2007, said: “Obviously I was chasing all day and I was trying to push, even though I didn’t play my best.
“With that birdie on 14, I was hoping I was going to be able to make it a bit interesting coming into the last couple of holes. If you’re one or two behind, with 17 and 18, a lot of things can happen…you can eagle and someone else can end up in trouble.
“We picked the wrong wind and I hit the wrong shot at the same time. Airmailed the green on 15 and led to bogey. And Sergio hit a good shot to three feet and then it was pretty much game, set, match.”
Denmark’s Lasse Jensen shot the lowest round of the final day – a seven-under par 65 – to climb to tied third place with England’s Tyrrell Hatton (67).
The 17-year-old Dubai-based schoolboy followed up his brilliant 68 on the opening day with a three-over par 75, marred by a double bogey on the 18th hole. Despite that, the MENA Tour Amateur Order of Merit champion safely proceeded into the weekend rounds at one-under par 143, with the cut applied at one-over par 145.
The only other UAE-based amateur to have made it this far in the tournament is Matthew Turner, who finished tied 51st in the 2009 edition, which was won by Rory McIlroy.
Thomas then made a brilliant start to his third round, making four birdies in his first five holes, but a double bogey on the second hole, and a triple on the seventh saw him finish his third round on two-over par 74. He goes into the final round today at 217, tied for the 54th place.
“It was awesome to make the cut, but I wasn’t really thinking about it. I kept thinking that I had two more rounds to play so that was what my mind was on. But pretty happy to make it to the weekend,” said the 112th ranked amateur in the world.
“I really can’t complain about the start. I was four-under through nine, but unfortunately fell away on the back. I think I just got a bit tired, head popped up, made a couple of bad swings and that cost me.
“I think I was tired physically and mentally. It is hard to focus for so many holes,” added Thomas, who played 32 holes yesterday, including the 14 from his second round.
“But overall, I am pretty happy with it. Played well the back nine so some positives to take away from today into tomorrow. I just need to keep playing attacking golf and I’ll be fine.”
When asked what would be his aim in the final round tomorrow, Thomas said: “To shoot something that helps me finish in the red. If I can get myself back into red figures I’ll be happy.”
Sergio Garcia birdied the 18th hole in the dark to claim a three-shot lead over Ryder Cup team-mate Henrik Stenson ahead of the final round of the Omega Dubai Desert Classic.
Garcia carded a third round of 68 at Emirates Golf Club to finish 16 under par at the end of a day which had started at 7:30am local time and finished well after sunset.
Play had been suspended on Friday afternoon after several trees were blown over by strong winds and those players who had not managed to complete their rounds returned on day three to far more favourable conditions.
Garcia resumed on the sixth hole and reeled off three straight birdies on his way to a 67 and a three-shot halfway lead, which the 37-year-old Spaniard managed to maintain in dramatic fashion.
Having started the back nine of round three with three birdies in four holes to move four shots clear, Garcia three-putted the 15th before driving the green on the short 17th to set up a birdie and holing from eight feet for another on the last.
Stenson carded a 67 to finish 13 under, although the European number one could be left to rue missing short birdie chances on the 16th and 17th.