DUBAI -- You don’t have to look far from the top to find big names on the leader board with one round to play in the Omega Dubai Desert Classic. But day three at the Emirates Club belonged to the man with the shortest moniker in the field.
With a 67 that took him to 11-under par for the week, Ashun Wu of China is a shot clear of the increasingly impressive Victor Perez. Defending champion Bryson DeChambeau and Korn Ferry Tour Championship winner Tom Lewis are two back, with the likes of Tommy Fleetwood, Eddie Pepperell and Open champion Shane Lowry all within striking range.
Wu’s round began in spectacular fashion, with an eagle two at the first hole. Four more birdies followed, only his dropped shot at the par-4 16th marring an otherwise bogey-free card.
“I called that my ‘Happy Chinese New Year Shot,’” said the leader of his opening gambit. “I didn't know I holed it until the gallery went wild. So I was very happy.”
The same can be said for Perez, the Dundee (Scotland)-based Frenchman who won the Dunhill Links Championship last October and is already looking like he is likely to be the fourth from his nation - after Jean Van de Velde, Thomas Levet and Victor Dubuisson - to play in a Ryder Cup. Two-over par after seven holes of his third round, Perez rattled off seven birdies in the next 11 to match Wu’s 67.
Lewis went two better than that, riding a wave of birdies that began the previous day. The former Walker Cup player, playing alongside Ryder Cup captain Padraig Harrington on days one and two, was two-over par after 20 holes and thinking more about the cut than the lead.
“Anything could happen tomorrow,” said Lewis, in the wake of making 11 birdies in his last 34 holes. “There's always someone that shoots a low score in the last round. On the other hand, you can easily get out of place and find yourself over par like I did early on.”
That air of positivity was not repeated by DeChambeau. Hampered by a lack of hearing in his right ear - “it finally popped on the 13th,” he said - the man who shot 24-under par to win by seven shots a year ago wasn’t finding anything easy this time round. Especially with his putting.
“Boy, was it a struggle out there for me on the greens today,” said the American. “I'm going to go work on it a little bit. I didn't feel like I was putting bad though. It just seemed like putts were going weird ways and ways they shouldn’t.”
The draw for the final round has paired DeChambeau and Pepperell in the third-to-last group. It is likely to be an interesting and perhaps silent day out on the Majlis course for both. Only last year, the witty Englishman was forced to apologize after making fun of DeChambeau’s sometimes pedestrian pace of play on Twitter. “A single-minded twit,” was how Pepperell labelled the world No. 17, a remark he later called “unnecessary.”
Be nice boys.