England's Rock Joint Top; McIlroy, Hanson, Molinari & Lawrie One Back as Congested Leaderboard Sets Up 'Super Sunday'
Abu Dhabi, UAE, Saturday 28 January, 2012: The Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship is primed for a nail-biting climax, as the field's top 26 players – led by a resurgent Tiger Woods – head into 'Super Sunday' separated by a mere six strokes.
With the formidable National Course standing strong amid various challengers' attacks, Woods carded an imperious, bogey-free round of 66 to ensure his place in tomorrow's final grouping. The 14-time Major winner will play in an 11:45am tee-off alongside England's Robert Rock, who reached the clubhouse after shooting his own expert 66, and Sweden's Peter Hanson.
"Now that we know Abu Dhabi will have a new champion, the battle for the Falcon trophy is really heating up, said Faisal Al Sheikh, Events Manager, Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority, the Championship organiser. "It is fantastic for the tournament, the players and the spectators to have such a packed leaderboard going into the final day. The prospect of a title tussle involving Tiger going right to the wire will have fans relishing tomorrow's finale.
After confessing to trouble reading the National Course greens earlier in the week, Woods' form with the putter returned with devastating effect. Having already birdied holes one, seven and 10, the American moved into a share for the lead with an eight-foot birdie putt on the 12th, before cementing his place at the field's summit with an 18-foot birdie putt on 14.
A smiling Woods, no doubt buoyed by the fact Abu Dhabi's last four champions have led going into the final day, then birdied the 18th hole in front of delirious Abu Dhabi galleries.
"It was a nice atmosphere today; people were into it, said Woods. "Each day, the gallery has gotten bigger and bigger and bigger. It was fun and you could see that everyone was excited to be out there. The weather is perfect to come out and watch the event. It's a great leaderboard, so I think everyone is happy.
Rock, playing in the group behind Woods, birdied the last to secure joint-top billing and his chance to play with the biggest name in the game. "I bogeyed the 16th hole and thought it might have cost me; two birdies to finish put me back in there and I'm pretty pleased with that, said Rock, adding: "Tiger's the best guy I've ever seen play golf and I get to watch him a little bit more closely tomorrow. I'm not so sure how much sleep I'll get tonight!
Elsewhere, Rory McIlroy, playing with Woods for the third day on the trot, is also within striking distance. The Ulsterman, who shared the Championship lead after the first round, fired two birdies in the last four holes and sits two strokes behind Woods and Rock.
The best round of the day – and week - went to a beaming Hanson, whose scintillating, bogey-free 64 moved him to eight-under par. "It was great, said the Swede. "Eight birdies, no bogeys, beautiful blue sky in Abu Dhabi; it was one of those days where you have the best job in the world. I love Abu Dhabi - it's one of the best venues we play.
Denmark's Thomas Bjorn, South Africa's George Coetzee and Spain's Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano all took advantage of perfect playing conditions to post rounds of 65, while Europe's Ryder Cup star, Francesco Molinari, shot eight birdies en route to a third round of 66. The Italian will play with McIlroy and Scotland's Paul Lawrie tomorrow – the trio are all on nine-under par after 54 holes.
Having started the day at six-under, Matteo Manassero, a global golf ambassador for ADTA, fired a one-under par 71 to sit menacingly in the chasing pack at seven-under par.