x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Lee Westwood is not a bully, but he will fight to win

World No 3 vaults to the top of the leaderboard in Dubai.

Lee Westwood leads the Omega Dubai Desert Classic.
Lee Westwood leads the Omega Dubai Desert Classic.

DUBAI // Lee Westwood says he has had enough of being golf’s playground bully, but warned his rivals they will not beat him to the Dubai Desert Classic title without a fight today.

Despite being a long term visitor to the city, the world No 3 has never won the UAE’s longest-established Tour event.

He has tasted success in Dubai, however. He finished 2009 as the leading player on the European Tour after winning the Dubai World Championship, following four days in which, to use his words, he “bullied” the field around the Earth Course.

His tone was different this time around, after his impressive third round gave him the lead on 15-under par ahead of today’s final round.

“I’m not trying to bully anybody,” he said. “But he had a word of caution for those around him at the top of a bunched leaderboard as well.

“I know how to play with the lead,” Westwood said. “When I get a chance, I’m pretty good at finishing off. I’ve won 37 times. That is not somebody that’s not good with a lead.

“It’s a habit. You get used to it. You get used to knowing what to do, when to press, when not to press, when to be patient.”

Rory McIlroy, the world No 2, and Martin Kaymer, the No 4, will set off this afternoon two shots behind Westwood, and ostensibly pose the biggest threat to him.

However, there are plenty of “Other Guys” in contention, too. While the pressure of Sunday afternoon championship golf will no doubt test their mettle, each has had the chance to sample playing with the stars already this week.

Rather than being intimidating, playing in the presence of Westwood could be a help, if yesterday’s evidence is anything to go by.

While he assumed the lead with a round of 67, his playing partners Marcel Siem and Stephen Gallacher profited from being in his slipstream.

They shot 68s apiece, meaning they will start the final round one shot behind him on 14 under. All three will be reunited when they tee off in the final match at noon.

“To play with the No 3 in the world is not a usual thing for me and I really enjoyed it,” Siem, who is ranked No 223 in the world, said.

“He’s a great guy. I was a little nervous in the beginning, but it showed me that I can do it, with the world No 3 next to me as well.”

Scott Jamieson may have been giving away 201 places in the standings to Kaymer, his playing partner in round three, but he still shot a matching round of 70, leaving him two shots off the lead.

“That is why I started playing this game, to rub shoulders with these guys,” Jamieson said. “I’m just looking forward to it, to test my game against them under the pressure of a final round.”

Rafael Cabrera-Bello’s reward for a sparkling opening two days was to be pitted with McIlroy on the third.

Despite being watched by the type of bloated gallery that would usually be beyond the world’s No 119, he was able to shoot 70 to move to within one of Westwood.

“I tried to [act relaxed] on the first tee,” the Spaniard said. “I told myself that this is where I belong because that’s what my game has been showing all week.”

If the lesser lights are feeling a sense of trepidation before going off this morning, they may be comforted to know even a luminary such as Kaymer is hoping fortune does him a favour.

“The pins were tucked in some corners, and so I hope they are going to set the course up tough [today],” the German player said.

“Maybe we’ve got a little more wind and then he can’t run away and hopefully we can catch him.”