KING ABDULLAH ECONOMIC CITY: Graeme McDowell did not let a second birdie chance slip away to take a one-shot lead into the final round of the second Saudi International golf tournament.
The 40-year-old tour veteran from Northern Ireland made sure he got the job done on the par-5 18th on Saturday at the Royal Greens Golf & Country Club in King Abdullah Economic City. He drilled a wedge from 181 yards downwind to six feet and made the putt, after playing out neatly from a desert patch to the left where his 313-yard drive had landed.
A hole earlier, McDowell missed a chance to take the outright lead from Frenchman Victor Dubuisson after his birdie try from five feet slid past the par-4 17, after both players tied on 11 under going into the last two holes of the penultimate round of the competition of the European Tour event with a $3.5 million prize pot up for grabs.
Keeping his focus in stiff winds blowing in from the Red Sea, McDowell, who sets out in the final group in Sunday’s last round with 2014 Ryder Cup partner Dubuisson at Gleneagles, said: “Yeah that was kind of a sign of things to come (third hole, par 3 over the green). I didn’t realize at the time — we felt we hit it in the left bunker — it was a bad shot. It was a flushed snap hook and I couldn’t believe it when it flew that bunker and I got up and saw that ball way over the back. And I was like, oh, no. It came out just perfectly killed and literally it was a lot good putt. So it was a nice way to kind of hang in there and keep the day going.”
McDowell handled the brutal conditions well on another overcast and pleasantly cool day to finish on 4-under 66 while Dubuisson had 65 and 11 under.
“The putt on 9 was massive. Those are the kind of putts you look back on the round and you go ‘that was the one.’ But then there were a couple more that came after that,” said McDowell.
At least four players have had a taste of the lead in a tight back nine battle that also featured Malaysia’s Gavin Green and Victor Perez of France, who ended on 9 under and 7 under after a 70 and 73 respectively on Saturday.
“It was brutal out there and a couple of pins, they were tucked so far in corners,” said the 26-year-old Green, who had six top-10 finishes in his European Tour career.
Perez, joined at 7 under by Italy’s Renato Paratore and American star and defending champion Dustin Johnson who said: “Tomorrow I’m going to have to go out and get off to another start like I did today and then finish it off a little better.”
World No. 1 Brooks Koepka made some inroads on so-called moving day to finish with the day’s lowest round of 65 along with Dubuisson and Ian Poulter.
Koepka was on -6 as was fellow US star Phil Mickelson. Along with Johnson the US trio are within striking distance of the leaders.