DUBAI: Stephen Gallacher shot a 10-under 62 yesterday to grab a three-shot lead at the Dubai Desert Classic and break a three-round scoring record set by Tiger Woods 12 years ago.
The 111th-ranked Scotsman, who just missed out on a playoff last year in Dubai, is looking for his first European Tour win since 2004. Gallacher holed a 25-yard bunker shot on the 18th for an eagle to finish with a 21-under total of 195 in rare rainy and overcast conditions in the desert. That improved on Woods’ tournament mark by a shot and just missed tying the course record of 61 set in 1994 by Ernie Els.
“It’s the best round I’ve had,” Gallacher said. “I was just trying to make as many birdies as I could.”
Overnight leader Richard Sterne (66) tried to keep pace with the Scotsman, sinking long birdie putts on the eighth and 11th holes and then a 45-footer from the fringe on No. 15. Thorbjorn Olesen (67) finished five shots behind Gallacher in third place, after he struggled off the tee and had two bogeys on the back nine — his first of the tournament.
A shot behind Sterne at the halfway mark, Gallacher moved into a share of the lead after carding two early birdies and then went alone atop the leaderboard with a birdie on No. 5. With Sterne, Olesen and England’s Tommy Fleetwood (69) close behind, Gallacher made his move on the back nine with two birdies in the first three holes. He shot an eagle on the 13th after his 173-yard approach shot hit the pin and stopped two feet from the hole for the easy putt.
Gallacher then had four straight pars before another eagle on the last after his inspired bunker shot.
“Came out perfect and obviously it went in, a great way to finish,” Gallacher said.
Gallacher missed a birdie putt on the 18th last year that would have forced a playoff with eventual winner Rafael Cabrera-Bello and settled for second. But he is in the running to end his nine-year drought on the tour that dates back to his win at the Dunhill Links Championship where he beat Graeme McDowell in a playoff.
“It would be great to know that you can do it again. I’ve certainly been playing better the last three or four years,” the 38-year-old Gallacher said. “I’ve had a lot of close shaves, a couple of seconds last year, second the year before ... It is tough to win but if you’ve done it before, you can do it again.”
Despite losing the lead, Sterne said he was “happy” with his round that included seven birdies and only an opening bogey. A five-time winner on the European Tour, the 165th-ranked Sterne hasn’t won since 2009 mostly due to back problems that sidelined him for much of 2010 and ‘11.
“I’ve given myself a chance going into tomorrow, in the last group again which will be hopefully a lot of fun and put some good scores on there and put some pressure on Stephen,” said Sterne, who opened with a 62 on Thursday. “I’m a bit more comfortable perhaps not leading going into the last round as you can see by my history. Just got to hole a couple good putts at the right time again.”
Olesen, who joined Nike this year alongside Rory McIlroy and won his first tournament last year, at times look upset with himself on the back nine. The Dane badly missed several fairways with his drive and then three-putted on 16 for one of two bogeys before finishing with one of his seven birdies on the 18th.
“It was a pretty good day but I was hoping for something more,” the 23-year-old Olesen said. “I thought I could have made a few more birdies.”
Chile’s Felipe Aguilar (66) and Jeev Milkha Singh (67) of India are tied for fourth, seven shots off the pace. The 95th-ranked Singh surged into contention early when he holed a lob wedge from 68 yards for eagle on the 2nd and then birdied the next hole. He cooled down after that, carding only two more birdies.
Eighth-ranked Lee Westwood shot a 66 to move into sole possession of ninth. Like his horse Rerouted that came from behind Thursday to win its race in Dubai on Thursday, the Englishman said he felt an outside chance of catching the leaders. He finished second last year.
“I felt like I needed to start strong to make up some ground,” said Westwood, who opened with two birdies on his first four holes and finished with two birdies in a row.
“I’ve come off with a nice 30-footer at 17 and on 18 the eagle putt was right on line,” he said. “So that sort of stuff can give you momentum for the next day.”
Fourteenth-ranked Sergio Garcia struggled at times with a nagging shoulder injury, shooting 71 to fall into a tie for 19th.