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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 10 December 2018

Race to Dubai enters home stretch as Rose and Fleetwood get ready for 'fun final day'

Fleetwood leads the Order of Merit standings, Rose the tournament heading into the last round of the European Tour season.

Justin Rose, left, and Tommy Fleetwood, right, are in a straight tussle for the Race to Dubai title. Kamran Jebreil / AP Photo; Kiarim Sahib / AFP
Justin Rose, left, and Tommy Fleetwood, right, are in a straight tussle for the Race to Dubai title. Kamran Jebreil / AP Photo; Kiarim Sahib / AFP

One round of the European Tour season to go and the Race to Dubai is running right down to the wire.

For Justin Rose, second in the year-long standings but atop the DP World Tour Championship, it makes for a pretty ace way to finish.

“Couldn’t have scripted it better,” said the Englishman following a third-round 65 around the Earth course on Saturday.

Blemish-free, it lifted Rose to 15-under par and secured the summit. He heads a bunched leaderboard by one from Jon Rahm and Dylan Frittelli, but crucially, enjoys a two-shot advantage over Tommy Fleetwood, the current Race leader. Some script, indeed.

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“He’s right there,” Rose said. “He’s done everything he needs to do, I’m doing everything I need to do. So it’s set up for a fun final day.”

That's one way to describe it. Frantic would be another. With nine guys within three shots of Rose, the 2007 European No 1 knows the importance first and foremost of getting the job done in the tournament.

A third victory on the bounce would clinch a second Order of Merit. He has form and a former glory. Fleetwood, meanwhile, is aiming to do it for the very first time. With rookie relish, the 26-year old Englishman describes his current position as "cool".

So who holds the advantage?

“It’s two ways,” Rose said. “Tommy’s had the pressure all year of leading, he’s been chased down, so that’s going to feel different for him. I played today with a lot of freedom, like I had nothing to lose.

“Now does that change because I’m actually leading into tomorrow? It’s easy to view it that way. But I see tomorrow as an opportunity. It’s going to take a great round of golf to win this. There’s so many guys in the hunt.”

There are really only two in the Race to Dubai dash. Sergio Garcia’s chances remain that slim, meaning on Sunday it comes down simply to Fleetwood or Rose.

For the former, he was just over the moon to still be in with a shout. An opening-day 73 threatened to derail Fleetwood's Order of Merit bid, but he responded with consecutive 65s.

On Saturday, he bounced back again, this time from a bogey on the fifth to reel off eight birdies in his final 11 holes. No wonder he is already chomping at the bit for Round 4.

“I wanted to keep going,” Fleetwood said. "Let's bring the tee times forward for tomorrow.”

Never worry, he has a seven-week-old son to make sure the nervous excitement doesn’t gobble up all the adrenaline. Because Fleetwood is in little doubt as to what is at stake.

“It's a massive thing,” he said. “It's the biggest thing I've ever tried to achieve. I was in contention in the US Open and [WGC] Mexico, but they were one or two rounds. This has been all year and you come down to the final event.

“Year and a half ago, I was absolutely nowhere in the game and a bit lost. Fast forward to here, it's been amazing to play and to enjoy my golf this year, and then to get to this stage. It's been an absolute pleasure and privilege trying to compete for a Race to Dubai.”

Still, Sunday surely ranks as the biggest day of his career.

“Over my career, yeah. Nothing closest to the biggest day of my life,” Fleetwood said. “Enjoy these moments. This is what you practice for and this is what you play for. It's brilliant, isn't it? Makes me smile.”