sport

Rose retains Abu Dhabi lead

Justin Rose remains on course for a dream debut in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship after doubling his advantage to two shots.

With no Rory McIlroy or Tiger Woods to worry about - the world's top two missed the halfway cut - the leading remaining player had every reason to feel confident when he resumed on eight under par.

A three-putt opening bogey from only 15 feet was not quite what the 32-year-old had in mind, but then came five birdies in six holes as his class shone through again.

A tee shot to four feet on the short 12th brought fifth-ranked Rose another and a four-stroke advantage over the field, but that gap came down to one when he bogeyed the 13th and 17th.

He was just short of the green in two on the long 18th, however, and a chip to two feet gave him a seventh birdie of the day, a 68 for his third round and a 12 under aggregate.

Welshman Jamie Donaldson and Dane Thorbjorn Olesen - flying the Nike flag following the exits of the game's leading two lights - are in joint second place after both handed in 69s.

Thailand's Thongchai Jaidee, third last week at the Volvo Golf Champions, is a further stroke back and then come Scot Richie Ramsay, England's David Howell and Spaniard Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano on eight under.

Rose said: "I came here with no expectations - I came here to see where my game is at."

Not surprisingly, he is delighted with where it is and the absence of McIlroy and Woods from the closing two rounds makes no difference to him.

"Anybody who wins this week, they have beaten the number one and number two in the world. You can say you've beaten the best."

Relegated to fifth in the world by Louis Oosthuizen's victory in South Africa last week, Rose would take the position back by lifting a title worth over 278,000.

That would again leave only McIlroy, Woods and Luke Donald ahead of them and he will be hoping to close on them even more at next week's Qatar Masters, the second leg of the European Tour's Middle East swing.

"I believe that any tournament I tee up in I can win," said Rose, who picked up his first world championship trophy in Miami last March, played one of the starring roles in the Ryder Cup and then beat McIlroy and Woods in an unofficial event in Turkey two weeks later.

There was also his closing 62 in Dubai in November, although on that occasion the Northern Irishman denied him with five closing birdies.

Donaldson's victory in last July's Irish Open remains his only success in almost 270 European Tour starts, but a place in the world's top 50 at the end of last year has given him a first appearance at the US Masters in April.

Olesen is Augusta-bound too through the same route and his round on Saturday afternoon was bogey-free.

Donaldson had a far more adventurous time. His ball stuck up a palm tree on the long eighth, but he salvaged a par and birdied the ninth despite pushing his drive perilously close to the water.

Failing to get up and down from a bunker at the 12th cost him a shot before he birdied the 15th and 18th to stay poised for a challenge.

"I feel pretty good - I played some great recovery shots out there," he said.

"It was another tough day out there, even though there wasn't much wind. I couldn't have really scored much better than that."

Howell's last win was the 2006 BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth and he been through some terrible times on the course then.

The Swindon player has fought his way back to 258th in the world - he was once ninth - and having won in Dubai before desert golf clearly agrees with him.

That said, Howell commented: "I've never really played well here - a couple of top 20s I think maybe - but if I can have a great day tomorrow obviously I can post a very good total.

"I've played really consistently for the best part of a year and I'm playing some of the best golf I ever have really - I'm just coming from a low position.

"It's hard to fight your way back up there, but I'm doing it bit by bit and a big finish or a win would go a long way to taking me right back to where I want to be."

Ramsay stands 53rd in the world and knows that come the end of March the top 50 receive Masters invitations.

The former US amateur champion - he played at Augusta six years ago as a result - fired a 67 to move up 10 places, while Howell had a 68.

That was one better than playing partner and former US Open champion Michael Campbell, another in the process of climbing back from the depths of despair.