DUBAI // Anders Hansen believes mastering the conditions today will be the key as the Dubai Desert Classic seems destined for one of its tightest finishes.
Hansen shares the lead with Rory McIlroy and Thomas Aiken on eight-under, but seven players are a stroke behind, including the two-time Dubai winner Tiger Woods and Sergio Garcia.
Two more are at six under and eight, including the world No 1 Lee Westwood, will start just three strokes short of the leaders.
"There's so many guys," Hansen said. "I just had a brief look on the leaderboard, and obviously in blustery conditions, the morning guys had a great day.
"So, there you go, you know what it's going to be like on this golf course and the time we play in Dubai. It's so difficult in the afternoon. That's just the way it is."
Teeing-off at 12.27pm alongside Woods, Hansen was four shots behind the overnight leader McIlroy. The Dane birdied the first but suffered consecutive bogeys on the fourth and fifth.
Two birdies on the back nine, however, allowed him to close at one-under 71, a good return in tough, blustery conditions, with swirling winds that saw the likes of McIlroy and Garcia go three over.
"It wasn't pretty out there," Hansen said. "I think none of us played that great, but it's very difficult. It's gusty and blowing a lot and it's blowing really hard. It's difficult, yeah, and the greens are so firm. It's not easy, but I'm very happy with the score."
The conditions were not the only problem for Hansen on the Majlis Course; the large contingent of fans following Woods were a distraction, too, but he coped well.
"It was always going to be a tough day," he said. "Playing with Tiger, you always know it's going to be. He's a great guy, he's a super guy. It's not his fault the crowd is going crazy out there and it's not his fault that there's so much movement around and it's just a bit difficult.
"We had a chat about it. He knows what's going on. But he's a great guy and I really enjoyed it."
Westwood, who played with Woods on the first two days, also had a tough time, though he managed to finish at par 72. He has not given up hope despite having 12 players ahead of him. "Might have a sniff at it, you never know," said the Englishman. "Obviously I would have liked to have shot 69, 70 and been a little bit closer. I could have done that, but not quite.
"It was difficult out there. The easy holes were not easier, they were hard. It was a grind. Tough to get it close to the flags. It's just hard - as hard as I've ever seen this golf course play."