World golf number five Justin Rose showed his title rivals a clean pair of heels in the Abu Dhabi Championship third round on Saturday, surging two strokes clear after cramming seven birdies into a four-under 68.
After top-ranked Rory McIlroy and world number two Tiger Woods missed the cut on Friday, Rose had centre stage pretty much to himself at the European Tour event and again showed he revels in the spotlight.
Fellow Briton Jamie Donaldson (69) and Dane Thorbjorn Olesen (69) were tied for second on 10-under 206, one ahead of Thailand’s Thongchai Jaidee (66).
Rose, who led by one stroke overnight, dropped a shot by three-putting the par-four first before launching a dynamic charge with five birdies in six holes to the turn.
The 32-year-old made more inroads on par at the 12th and 18th and would have stretched his lead further but for bogeys at the 13th and 17th, the latter coming after another three-putt.
The 1.89-metre Englishman, still waiting to achieve that elusive first major triumph despite racking up 10 victories around the world, said a win here would hold special significance.
“Anyone who wins, they have beaten the number one and number two in the world,” Rose told reporters. “It gives this tournament absolutely huge amounts of credibility.
“You can say you’ve beaten the best players and that’s exactly what you need to do. You need to do that in majors and you need to do that most weeks on tour,” he added after lighter winds led to lower scoring on the difficult Abu Dhabi Golf Club layout.
Rose said the absence of McIlroy and Woods made it easier for the rest of the players.
“If Tiger and Rory are the two guys right behind you there is a lot of hullabaloo about the day and I guess it would be more intense out there just based upon people’s interest,” he said.
“I think what does influence you when you go up against Rory and Tiger is the crowd. There are a lot more people milling around, there are more cameras, more distractions and that makes it more difficult.”
Rose felt his overall game was exactly where he wanted it to be on Saturday.
“I played really well today,” he said.
“Every time I had the club in my hand I felt like I was going to hit a good shot and that’s not always the case.
“Some days you have to work harder than others and some days are a bit of a grind. Today it felt pretty smooth.”
The best third-round performances came from India’s Shiv Chowrasia (65) and Australian Andrew Dodt (65) as they carded the lowest scores of the week.
“I got married two weeks ago. I don’t know if that’s got something to do with it,” said Dodt after finishing on 209 thanks to a birdie hat-trick on each nine.
“It’s all going well at the moment – as it probably should be.”
Married life was also a topic of conversation for Chowrasia after his wife decided to have a lie-in on Saturday.
The twice former European Tour winner teed off at 0738 local time and quickly catapulted his way up the leader board to chalk up a 211 total.
“My wife Simantini has been with me all week but it was too early a start for her today,” said Chowrasia. “She walked around the course with me on the first two days but then she said, ‘No more, it’s too early for me’.”