DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Tiger Woods doesn’t know much about his third-round partner at the Dubai Desert Classic.
“I know he’s Irish but that’s about it,” said Woods, who shot a 1-under 71 Friday for a one-shot lead over Damien McGrane.
McGrane, who is ranked 319th in the world and never won a tournament as a pro, will go head-to-head with Woods — golf’s top player — Saturday at the Emirates Golf Club.
The 36-year-old Irishman shot a 3-under 69 to climb within one shot of Woods, who was troubled by Friday’s gusty winds and finished with a halfway total of 8-under 136.
Defending champion Henrik Stenson of Sweden shot a 2-under 70 with four birdies and was two strokes behind Woods. He was tied for third with Thomas Levet of France, who had a 71.
Woods offered McGrane some advice on how to tackle the large crowds that follow him from hole to hole.
“There’s a lot of distractions here. I know there’s a policy with cameras, but that’s not really happening out here,” he said.
Indeed, course marshals repeatedly had to ask the galleries watching Woods and his two partners — Colin Montgomerie and Niclas Fasth — to stand still and put their cameras away.
Before he putted at the fourth hole, Woods even requested a group of photographers to move over out of his playing path. On the sixth hole, Montgomerie’s caddy motioned for a spectator to put away his camera — moments after a marshal asked the same thing.
The slightly chaotic scene swarming Woods was in stark contrast to McGrane’s round. Only about a dozen or so fans followed his play, including his sisters.
Though McGrane said it wasn’t his lifelong dream to play alongside Woods, he was excited.
“Obviously, that’s our ambition, play alongside him, see how the game is played, see what we should be doing, because obviously he sets the mark at the moment. But it would be nice to see,” he said.
McGrane was tied with Woods at 7-under until the world’s No. 1 player birdied the 18th hole. Woods had some difficulty in Friday’s windy, sandy conditions from the start.
Woods, who had a 2-shot lead after the first round, bogeyed the first hole after driving the ball in the rough. Two more bogeys followed on the 12th and 15th.
Woods, who won Sunday’s Buick Invitational by eight strokes, made four birdies — including two in the last three holes. He also missed some 10- and 12-foot putts. Poor putting plagued Woods last year in Dubai when he finished third.
“I had a hard time staying steady on them like the rest of the guys,” he said. “Plus, also, these greens aren’t exactly the easiest greens to read. There’s a bit of grain in there and you have to be committed, hit a good stroke and hopefully, it goes in. But (I) didn’t make a lot of putts today.”
Despite losing ground on the leaderboard, Woods said overall, he was “pleased with anything in the red today.”
“It was not a pretty day out there,” he said.
Woods’ win at Torrey Pines last weekend was his fourth straight and 62nd career title, tying Arnold Palmer for fourth place on the PGA Tour list. If he triumphs in Dubai, it will be his seventh win in eight starts — and his second Dubai Desert Classic title. He won here in 2006.
Wind gusts up to about 45 kilometers per hour (about 30 miles per hour) shook up the bunkers and surrounding desert terrain — sending sand flying in faces and creating a haze that masked many of the glitzy skyscrapers that are normally seen towering over the course.
Woods said even though he wore his sunglasses, he was still “chewing sand all day.”
“Good thing is, don’t need any fiber tonight,” he joked.
But for McGrane, who had four birdies and two bogeys, the chilly winds felt more like home.
“Finishing on the last few holes, it was very cold, and you don’t expect that in the desert,” he said. “But you know, it was nearly my type of weather today, so I made the most of it.”
Weather conditions were expected to be mild on Saturday — partly sunny and decreasing winds.