Stone races into Dubai contention

Brandon Stone made a bogey on the 12th on Saturday in the third round of the European Tour’s Omega Dubai Desert Classic, but such was his form that he bounced back immediately with an eagle on 13 and he finished six-under-par ahead of the final round.

Only leader Paul Casey outscored him with his eight-under-par 64, and that took a birdie-eagle finish as the Englishman moved to 15-under through 54 holes, one ahead of Scot Robert Macintyre, and two clear of Stone. The South African was alone in third at the end of the round, three ahead Sergio Garcia and Laurie Canter.

“It was just solid golf all the way round,” said Stone after his round. “I drove the ball really nicely all day. I managed to hole some nice putts on the front nine which always gets the adrenalin and the momentum going. I just felt very calm, very collected all day. I hit the ball fantastically well. It felt like I was putting for birdie on almost every hole. Whenever that’s the case, you feel like you have a low number in you.”

The tournament, which has had champions like Seve Ballesteros, Ernie Els, Tiger Woods, Henrik Stenson, Rory McIlroy, as well as Garcia, is very definitely one that Stone has in his sights. “You look at the previous winners, but you also look at the venue,” he said. “The Emirates Golf Club has an illustrious history. This location is special. If you stand on the eighth tee box and look at the skyline in the distance – it’s unique. You don’t get that anywhere else in the world. And the list of the winners is obviously incredible. You always want to be playing on the best courses and in the best tournaments and against the best players. And you want to win, and I’ve given myself an opportunity to do that tomorrow.”

He made four birdies through 10 holes, and then the difficult 12th struck. There were 17 bogeys and a double on it during the third round, but Stone was determined to make sure the damage was minimal. On the par-five 13th, he pushed a long three-wood to the right off the tee and then hit his approach brilliantly to within 12 feet to the left of the pin. The calmly made eagle putt was a formality and an indicator of how he would approach the final round.

“I’m definitely one of those guys who is stuck in his own bubble,” he said. “The only thing I can control is myself and my caddie does a tremendous job in keeping me level headed and distracted from leaderboards. But overall, we’re going to try and go out there tomorrow and try and hit as few golf shots as we can. And if that’s enough at the end of the day, that’s fantastic, but if it’s not then I’ll still sleep soundly on Sunday evening.”

Further down the leaderboard, Justin Harding fought the effects of a double and two bogeys to card a level-par 72 and stay inside the top 10 going into the final round, albeit seven off the pace.

Justin Walters posted a 69 to move to five-under in 22nd, Richard Sterne made 75 to slide to 35th, Christiaan Bezuidenhout carded a second-successive 70 to be at two-under for the tournament, Dean Burmester was on one-under after a 71, Jayden Schaper was one-over and George Coetzee two-over.

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