Andrew Redington/Getty Images
By Kent Gray
Andy Sullivan has shown a proclivity for winning going away on the European Tour, having waltzed to the 2015 Portugal Masters by nine strokes and the new English Championship by seven as recently as August.
Early in the third round of the inaugural Golf in Dubai Championship at Jumeirah Golf Estates, it seemed the 34-year-old was intent on more of the same.
When Friday playing partner Matt Wallace stiffed it to tap in range on the 1st, Sullivan retorted with his own tight wedge-birdie of his own and seemed to be setting out where he left off in opening rounds of 61- 66.
By the turn he’d stretched his three stroke overnight lead to four over the third member of his all-England group, Ross Fisher. A big lead, perhaps even something unassailable heading into Saturday’s final round, was in the offing.
But this untraditionally scheduled moving day didn’t quite go to plan. Suddenly the free-flow of birdies became more of a holding pattern. A frustrating bogey on 10 was followed by a stretch of steady/unspectacular par golf.
Sullivan eventually signed for a 68 to get it to -21 for the championship. That was good enough for a two-stroke buffer over Wallace (67) with Fisher (68) and Italian Renato Paratorte (65) a stroke further back on -18.
At least Sullivan will take a little momentum into the final round, if not a comfortable led with 11 players within five strokes on a course that could easily give up a low score to give one of the contenders setting out earlier a clubhouse target to make Sullivan sweat.
But if Sullivan and recapture the ball striking that marked his closing three holes, he he’ll be tough to haul in. A drive, two-putt birdie on the par-4 16th got him going again and was backed up with another gain on the tricky 17th when he rifled a 5-iron in tight in a near carbon copy of his second round shot of the day on the same hole Thursday. There was some final frustration when the master chipper was unable to get up and down for birdie from the front of the 18th but neither Fisher or Wallace were able to covert on the reachable par-5 either, limiting the damage.
“I’m happy with four under,” said Sullivan who will chase a fifth European Tour title on Saturday.
“I didn’t think I played brilliant golf. Started off really nicely front nine, played really solid. Ten through to 14 I didn’t swing it that great, didn’t give myself that many chances. Found some good swings coming in, which was really good, dug deep there and managed to get a few birdies coming home. Four under is a pretty fair reflection on how I played.
🏴 -21 Sullivan
🏴 -19 Wallace
🇮🇹 -18 Paratore
🏴 -18 R. Fisher
🇮🇹 -17 Laporta
🇫🇷 -17 Rozner
With one round to go at the #GolfInDubai.
— The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) December 4, 2020
“All in all, stayed patient and got my just desserts coming in with those two birdies. That’s what we were talking about before we got out there, it’s about being patient and I’m sure it will be the same tomorrow.
“There’s a lot of golf to be played, a lot of birdies to be made tomorrow. Just got to go out there and play golf. If I play as good as I did the first two days, I’ll be a confident man.”
THEY SAID IT…
Matt Wallace (ENG), 63-67-67 (-19)
“It was alright, didn’t swing it as good today. I felt a bit nervous, if I’m honest. Not at the start, but then a few tee shots didn’t feel as comfortable, didn’t strike it as well.
“Had to tell myself to let it go and struck it better coming in. Frustrating to miss that putt on the last. The grain really gets quite strong as the day goes on. On 17 it broke more, 18 broke a lot. I wouldn’t have given it outside the hole from that distance, and I would have had to.
“The birdie on the next hole (after bogey on nine) settled me down, but I knew I could hole that putt. I knew good drive, middle of the green to a back pin that was quite dangerous, I knew that I could hole that putt on a hard hole. Then I hit a great shot into 11. Staying patient, waiting for my run, a little bit. I hit a really bad shot on nine, which could have got to me – and would have probably got to me in the past – but I know that I’m swinging it well and I know I’m going to give myself loads of chances. Same tomorrow, I’m going to have loads of chances tomorrow.
“I’m not thinking about that (winning tomorrow), if I’m honest. I had a chance in Scotland and was in a better position in Scotland to win and I didn’t. I’m two behind a Ryder Cup player, someone who is playing really well. I’m going to have to go really low tomorrow. It’s not just him, someone could come from 15, 16 and shoot nine or ten under. You’ve seen out there, Robert Macintyre was seven-under through nine, so that can happen. Hopefully it can be me, but I’m just going to relax now and get ready for the fight tomorrow.”
Robert MacIntyre (SCO), 66-68-66 (-16)
“Happy with six under par, I’d have taken that before I went out but with the start I had I should have scored a lot better. That’s the way things happen and I have another day to fix it.
“It happened the other day. It’s nothing new. It’s part of the game and it happens all the time. You want it not to happen, but it’s part and parcel of the game. I enjoyed it as much as I could but to finish the way I did wasn’t so sweet.
“There’s still going to be pressure. If I’ve not go nerves on the first tee, I’m not in the right job. It’s going to be like a shootout again. It suits my game and I’m putting good, I just need to tidy it up a bit and see where it ends up.
“[Eagle on seven] 256 yards to the pin. Sitting alright in the rough. I hit a perfect five wood. It normally goes 250, slightly downwind I hit it perfect – right where I was aiming it – and it left me a nice putt.”
Par save of the day…
That’d be @RossFisher.#GolfInDubai pic.twitter.com/TeqVpZwdCj
— The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) December 4, 2020