The toughened up National Course, which has embarrassed golfing luminaries such as Lee Westwood, Louis Oosthuizen and Ian Poulter over the last three days, continues to be a happy hunting ground for the outstanding Martin Kaymer.
The German, guaranteed to rise to second in the world rankings tomorrow and considered a future world No 1, produced another flawless round yesterday to move to the brink of a third Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.
Leading by three strokes going into the rain-delayed third round, he showed a clean pair of heels to the two players who went out with him hoping to bridge the gap rather than see it extended.
Graeme McDowell, confidence high since his US Open triumph and Ryder Cup heroics, was outgunned by the prodigious hitting of Kaymer, as was Charl Schwartzel, the in-form South African who had been his closest overnight pursuer.
The task of trying to deny Kaymer more UAE glory from a leeway of five strokes has now been passed to Rory McIlroy who produced the joint-best round of the day, a 65 which included a birdie-eagle finishes, to jump into second place on the leaderboard.
England’s David Lynn also overtook Schwartzel and McDowell to take third place going into today’s final 18 holes, Schwartzel having to settle for a share of fourth with Sweden’s Alexander Noren, a shot ahead of McDowell, who has another Ulsterman Gareth Maybin for company at nine under par.
Kaymer’s mannerisms suggest that there is little danger to the Falcon Trophy being again lofted above his head this evening.
“A six-shot lead would be better,” he said in advance of his head-to-head battle with McIlroy.
“My goal tomorrow is to get further away and make more birdies. I’m really looking forward to the challenge of having Rory and maybe David Lynn chasing me. It is a joy for me to know that, if I play well again, I will win the tournament.”
Anywhere among the top seven finishers this afternoon will take Kaymer above Tiger Woods in the world rankings. “I consider Tiger to be the best player that ever lived,” he said. “To be in front of him for maybe only a week or a month would make me very happy.”
Kaymer’s aggregate score over this course since the year of his maiden European Tour victory in 2008 is now a staggering 74 under par.
Regaining the title at a cost of only three bogeys last year, he threatens to do even better this time as his only blemish so far was a dropped shot on the third hole of his opening round.
“I seem to get away with things here,” he said, admitting that he hit one or two indifferent shots which were not punished in the same way as his rivals’ off-target efforts were and he was lucky to snatch the third of his six birdies on the 11th.
Fortune did not favour Schwartzel in his own hour of need. The South African sensed his challenge was over when he drove into a bush on the 13th, found it just in time to avoid going back to the tee, but still incurred a disastrous six. “Something like that puts a halt to things very quickly, especially when Martin is playing so well,” said Schwartzel.
“He doesn’t look like he’s making any mistakes and when he does make one he recovers so well. He’s going to be very difficult to catch. Until that bad drive I was really right in it. But that’s how this game goes. It is such a fine line between playing really well and just average.”