With McIlroy and Woods out of the picture, Englishman takes it upon himself to thrill crowds with birdie blitz, writes John McAuley
High-flying Justin Rose has a pretty good view of his game
Justin Rose is becoming rather adept at stepping up to the plate. Take, for instance, the prolific putting on that drama-filled final day at October's Ryder Cup, which could arguably be credited as the most decisive blow in Europe's incredible coup.
Or his barely believable course-record 62 one Dubai Sunday last November, when he seized the baton from a flagging Luke Donald at the DP World Tour Championship and caused Rory McIlroy to sweat it out for victory.
Now add to that list the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship. The tournament, shorn at the halfway stage of its two grandest draws, yesterday required a sprinkle of stardust to maintain the gaze of the galleries and Rose, at No 5 the field's next highest-ranked player after McIlroy and Tiger Woods, did not disappoint.
The Englishman treated the denizens of the National Course to some gilded golf during his third round here, sinking five birdies in six hot holes on the front nine to eventually take a two-stroke lead into today's final run.
Come this evening, the shiny Falcon Trophy could be flying home with Rose across the Atlantic. That McIlroy and Woods did not stay through the weekend will not dull its glow one iota.
"Anyone that wins this week has still beaten the No 1 and No 2 players in the world," said Rose following his 4-under par 68. "It gives this tournament absolute huge amounts of credibility.
"You can say you've beaten the best players, and that's exactly what you need to do in majors, and most weeks on tour. These are great opportunities." Such has been Rose's recent ascent, you would imagine his Abu Dhabi debut carried more than a little anticipation. That does not seem to be the case.
"I came here with no expectations, so it would be a nice surprise [to win] in a sense," he said. "I came here just to see where my game was at. Maybe if I win I can sit on the couch a little bit more the next three weeks after this."
Sundays do not constitute lazy days in the Rose household of late, and he describes his final-round record as "pretty good". He accepts managing a lead carries extra baggage, but there is a certain confidence in his voice that suggests the chasing pack could be merely feeding off scraps.
"I'll just take it in my stride with whatever happens," Rose said. "That's why I'm not overly living or dying by the result. Of course I want to win, but I want to go out and give a good account of myself.
"Sometimes the rest is not in your hands."
If he continues to play as he has during the first three days, Rose is in line to win wire-to-wire and his closest rivals will not even get within touching distance of the title.
Their unenviable predicament has left them clutching at cliches.
"You've just got to take every hole as it comes," said Jamie Donaldson, the Welshmen who shares second with Thorbjorn Olesen. "You've got to try and put the ball in play off the tee. Just play your own game."
Donaldson conceded he did not swing the club as well as he had on Friday, but given the strange workings of his chosen profession, ended up one shot better off to post a 69.
"At the end of the day, that's what it's all about," he said. "And tomorrow is another day. Three-under today, I'm very happy and in a strong position."
On equally sound footing is Olesen, the talented Dane who is quickly making a name for himself. At 23, he lags some way behind McIlroy, his peer and new Nike stablemate, in terms of achievements - Olesen won on the European Tour for the first time last year - but his curve is very much upwards and strikingly steep.
"I'm going to try and be aggressive tomorrow," he said in confirmation of his growing conviction. "This place suits me great, I love it. I'll definitely have a chance."
Given the form of the man he will tee it up alongside today, however, any chance might be best described as slim at best.
"I've never played with Justin, so definitely it will be nice to go out with him tomorrow," Olesen said.
Nice but, conceivably, ultimately unsuccessful.
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