The crowds are back on the European Tour. Well, one at least. While there are a few spectators—“corporate guests”—roaming the premises at the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai, the most congested spot on the Earth Course at the Jumeirah Golf Estates is the leader board.
With one round to play in the Old World circuit’s season-ending tournament, Englishmen Laurie Canter and Matt Fitzpatrick hold the lead on 11 under par alongside Patrick Reed. Four men—Lee Westwood, Robert MacIntyre, Adri Arnaus and Viktor Hovland—are only one shot behind. And four others with impressive pedigrees—Sami Valimaki, Danny Willett, Tyrrell Hatton and Andy Sullivan—are all within four shots of the leading trio in the competition for the Race to Dubai title and the $3 million first-place check.
Reed’s relatively pedestrian round of 71 may have lost the former Masters champion the outright advantage he held after 36 holes, but his one-under-par score was also a masterclass in short-game agility combined with astute course management. Far from his best off the tee and struggling all afternoon with his swing, Reed kept himself in contention as only elite players can. The short-sided bunker shot he holed for birdie at the par-4 15th was impressive enough as it came immediately after two dropped shots in the previous three holes. But it was his play over the last three holes that summed up his day perfectly—or imperfectly.
On the par-4 16th, Reed found sand off the tee, had to lay-up well short of the green, then struck a wedge to within three feet of the cup. Par.
On the par-3 17th, Reed’s badly pushed tee-shot finished inches from the water that all but surrounds the putting surface. The chip finished stiff to the pin. Par.
On the 18th, Reed’s drive finished maybe two feet short of the burn that bisects the fairway. Another lay-up left him 80 yards from the hole and the pitch that followed pulled up eight-feet short of its ultimate target. Birdie.
Playing alongside Reed, Fitzpatrick got a close up view of Reed’s dexterity around the greens and was suitably impressed.
“I hate him [laughing],” said the 26-year-old Yorkshireman. “No, I don’t. I think he’s absolutely fantastic. For me, he’s one of the best on tour if not the best. And he’s so humble about it. He’s a great bloke, really. We had a good laugh out there today with plenty of talking and the shot on 17 was fantastic. Me and [caddie] Billy [Foster] were saying there was more chance of him making a 2 there than a 4. Patrick’s short game is phenomenal.”
Not surprisingly, however, Reed himself was less enthused.
“Really sloppy,” was his instant and predictable verdict on his performance. “I didn’t hit the ball well. And I didn’t make many putts other than the ones I really had to. It was one of those days when I had to lean on my short game. But I’m still in position to win tomorrow. I’m trying not to really think about that though. If it happens, it would be unbelievable. It was always a goal of mine to win tournaments, but to win this one and the Race to Dubai and be the first American to do that would be amazing.”
Still, amidst all of those at or near the top of the leader board, one man stands out. At age 47, Lee Westwood is … whisper it … old enough to have parented almost all of those with whom he will do battle over the final 18 holes. Only Sullivan (34) and Willett (33) would qualify as “younger brothers.” Which is not to say that Westwood is not capable of outdoing them all. The 10-time Ryder Cup player knows how to get things done. His victory in Abu Dhabi in January was his 25th on the European Tour, the first coming in 1996.
Having said that, Westwood, bothered by a twinge in his back all week, will likely have to play a little better than he has done so far. A duplication of the 68s he has shot in on Friday and Saturday probably won’t be good enough, given the quality of those around him. And the double-bogey 6 at the fourth, which was his only deviation above par during the third round, surely cannot be repeated.
“I played the same as I played the first couple of days,” Westwood said. “Just solid stuff. I’ve not really made loads of putts, but I’ve putted well. And I’ve driven the ball great. Just a bit of a hiccup on the fourth. So it’s just a case of keeping calm, regrouping and plodding along from here. I’m swinging it as good as I’ve swung it all year and I’ve hit it further than I have all year.”
That sounds like at least a starting point for success. But, like everyone else in contention, Westwood will have to fight his way through the crowd to get it done.