Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell will take a one-shot lead into the final round of the Saudi International powered by Softbank Investment Advisers, following an entertaining third round that saw some of the world’s leading players make their move at Royal Greens Golf & Country Club.
McDowell’s four under round of 66, taking him to -12, started in steady fashion with a level-par front nine but he showed his class and tenacity around the turn with brutal winds and challenging pin positions testing the whole field.
Sparked into life by a 20ft par-saving putt on the 9th, McDowell went on a birdie-blitz, draining from the fringe on the 12th and 13th hole – the former including clattering the pin, the latter a monster putt on the course’s most difficult hole.
A wayward drive on 18 threatened to tarnish a terrific back nine played in Royal Greens’ now infamous afternoon Red Sea winds, but the 40-year-old recovered with a sumptuous approach to six-feet from 180-yards out, before making birdie and claim the outright lead at 12-under-par heading into Sunday’s final round.
“My putt on nine was massive as I’d just bogeyed eight and the putter was cold,” said McDowell.
“Those are the putts you look back on the round and say ‘that was the one’. Those two putts from off the green on 12 and 13 are just massive bonuses at that point. You can’t expect to make those type of putts. Conditions were very tough today so I’m very pleased with that back nine.”
McDowell will be reunited with former 2014 Ryder Cup playing partner Victor Dubuisson in Sunday’s final pairing, following the Frenchman’s flawless bogey-free five under 65.
Dubuisson (-11) mastered the wind superbly throughout his round making three early birdies in the first four holes to put himself in contention for a first win on tour since the 2015 Turkish Open.
“It was just the kind of day where everything goes well,” said Dubuisson.
“I made a few mistakes on yardage with the wind and I managed to save par each time. I told my caddie it's going to be very windy, let's be a little more aggressive and relaxed despite the wind.”
Malaysia’s Gavin Green was unable to hit the heights of his opening rounds of 64 & 67 but a level-par 70 on Saturday keeps him three off the lead on -9 in sole third position.
“It was brutal out there and couple of pins, they were tucked so far in corners,” said Green.
“All we did was play to the middle of the greens and just try and take our 2-putt and make par. Because par is a good score today.”
The American trio of superstars Dustin Johnson (-7), World Number 1 Brooks Koepka (-6) and legend Phil Mickelson (-6) are all ominously within touching distance of the leaders.
Defending champion Johnson started his day with a bang grabbing four consecutive birdies in the first four holes, before losing ground on the tricky back nine.
“Tomorrow I'm going to have to go out and get off to another start like I did today and then finish it off a little better,” said Johnson.
Koepka took advantage of the more benign morning conditions in his round of 65 - the joint lowest round of the day alongside Dubuisson and Ian Poulter (-5). The world’s leading player’s put on a driving masterclass with his putter finally getting hot after a frustrating start to the tournament.
“I drove it really well today and I just made more putts,” said Koepka. “I’ve putted well all week they just haven't fallen, but today they finally fell.”
Tickets for the Saudi International’s final day remain on sale, priced at 50 SAR per day with exclusive concert tickets start at 75 SAR
For more tournament information, visit www.saudiinternational.com
Saudi International second round leaderboard:
-12 G McDowell, -11 V Dubuisson, -9 G Green, -7 R Paratore, V Perez, D Johnson, -6 B Koepka, P Mickelson, T Detry