Stenson defence remains on track

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Published: Saturday 22nd November 2014 by The News Editor

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Defending champion Henrik Stenson remained on course to achieve a personal milestone worth more than £1.3million as Rory McIlroy suffered a nightmare two-hole spell in the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai.

Stenson has never successfully defended a title in his career but goes into the final round at Jumeirah Golf Estates tied for the lead on 14 under par with Spain’s Rafael Cabrera-Bello.

World number one McIlroy had caught Stenson at the top of the leaderboard when he carded his fourth birdie of the day on the 10th, only to run up back-to-back double bogeys on the 12th and 13th.

The four-time major winner repaired some of the damage with birdies on the 14th and 18th to card a 70 and finish alongside Victor Dubuisson, Tyrrell Hatton and Thorbjorn Olesen on 10 under, one shot behind former US Open champion Justin Rose.

Stenson felt he had “hit the wall” during the second round at the end of a long season, but admitted the prospect of winning the first prize of £830,000 and securing a bonus of £510,000 for finishing second in the Race to Dubai behind McIlroy was providing extra motivation.

“I felt a little stronger today but I wasn’t exactly jumping out of bed this morning,” Stenson said. “But what do you expect at 38 years old? I’m a little low on energy but when the mind wants something you can pull through.

“It would be great to win. It’s a great championship and it would mean a lot to defend a title and get the win. It’s been a good year but when you assess it you always look at the trophies and there hasn’t been one yet.”

Stenson carded four birdies in a flawless 68 but also missed two putts from inside three feet and added: “I was striking the ball better than yesterday but was not quite as hot on the greens and left a couple of shots out there.

“All in all it was a good day and we’re still at the races so I am pretty pleased.”

McIlroy was left to rue his mini meltdown on the back nine, where he drove into a fairway bunker on the 12th and compounded the error by three putting, before duffing two chips from right of the green on the 13th.

“The 12th and 13th ruined the scorecard a bit,” said the 25-year-old, who had already secured his second Race to Dubai title in three years after four wins this season.

“It makes life a little more difficult for me tomorrow. I need to be aggressive, I need to go at pins, hit it close and make some putts.

“I felt a little better out there today than yesterday so knew if I stayed patient the birdies would come. I got on a nice run with three birdies in a row from the fifth and another one at 10, but unfortunately the back nine was not quite as good as the front.

“It was annoying to follow one double bogey with another. I was a little frustrated but it was nice to get a couple back and at least keep myself in touch.”

Cabrera-Bello’s flawless 65 followed on from his 64 on Friday and was the lowest round of the day, giving the Spaniard the chance to claim his third European Tour title.

The 30-year-old’s last win also came in Dubai in the Desert Classic in 2012, when he held off the likes of McIlroy, Lee Westwood and Stephen Gallacher to claim victory.

“Obviously I know they are the best players in the world,” he said of tomorrow’s rivals. “I’m happy to be able to have beat them occasionally.

“I know when I play very good, I really believe I can beat anyone. I’ve done it before to prove it to myself so I’m just going to try to enjoy it, and if it happens, great. If it doesn’t happen, then I’m still going to put up a good fight.”

Rose carded a 68 alongside Cabrera-Bello and offered some high praise of his playing partner, comparing his short game to the late Seve Ballesteros.

” I watched an incredible round of golf today,” Rose said. “Rafa was unbelievable. He really struggled with his game the first few holes, up-and-down, up-and-down, up-and-down, and then got some flow going. He had 15 one-putts today. His short game was Seve-like. It was awesome.

” He was chipping it to a foot and it was awesome. Chipping around this golf course is difficult, very grainy, very tough, very sandy underneath the ball. It was a masterclass.”

Published: Saturday 22nd November 2014 by The News Editor

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