Kearney dials in 66 as he looks to end season on a high

John Craven
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Niall Kearney (Photo by Octavio Passos/Getty Images)

Niall Kearney produced a superb moving day six-under par round of 66 to race up the board ahead of the final round of the Golf in Dubai Championship presented by DP World.

The Royal Dublin professional went one shot better than his 67 on Thursday around the Fire Course at Jumeriah Golf Estates, firing five birdies and an eagle ‘2’ at the par-4 16th in a near flawless Friday performance with Kearney’s only bogey of the day arriving at his second hole, the par-4 11th.

“Another positive day, played well again,” Kearney reflected having moved into a share of 21st at 12-under par. “I hit it really good off the tee and managed to hit a few iron shots and wedge shots pin high and gave myself a lot of chances. An eagle on the par-4 was a nice bonus. The tee was pushed up so it turned into a drivable hole and I hit a great tee shot to about four feet and holed the putt. Overall, I just played really solid.”

A slight fog delay was put in the rear view mirror by the Dubai sun which burned off any lingering mist before temperatures soared in the afternoon. Far from a winter in his native Dublin, conditions were as mentally taxing as they were physical with Kearney grateful for some wisdom in the caddie seat this week to ensure he kept his focus.

“I’ve my Dad over caddying which is great. We’re having a really good time together,” Kearney said. “It seemed to get absolutely roasting out there so concentration was important over the last few holes… I only played the last eight holes in one-under. I gave myself a few chances and it would’ve been nice to pick up another couple of shots but overall I’m feeling good about tomorrow. My thought process is coming easy, feeling relaxed, so hopefully we can finish the week off well now.”

After Friday’s second round, Kearney credited the fruits of this week for the labour undertaken prior to travelling to the UAE. Alongside his coach at The Heritage, Eddie Doyle, the pair put in the hours to ensure Kearney arrived at his last stop of a curtailed 2020 season with a clear game plan that the Dublin has been able to execute under the gun. After his moving day 66, Kearney went into the specifics of the work that’s been translated into his scoring this week at Jumeirah.

“I’ve been working with Eddie quite a while now and the swing has been getting better all the time,” Kearney added. “If I was to pinpoint what we did last week prior to coming out here, it was just dialling in the wedges, making sure our yardages were spot on, making sure we’re getting them on line. Stuff like that makes such a difference. I’ve managed to hit a lot of great wedge shots this week where I’ve got in really tight – inside five feet – and made a lot of birdies that way so that’s made things a lot easier on the course.”

Meanwhile, at the head of affairs, there’s still no catching Andy Sullivan who will take a two-stroke lead into the final round of the Golf in Dubai Championship as the Englishman hunts a fifth European Tour victory and his second of the 2020 Race to Dubai season.

In each of his last two victories – at the English Championship in August and the 2015 Portugal Masters – Sullivan has converted a third round lead, but the 33-year-old will have to fend off the significant challenge of four-time European Tour winner Matt Wallace if he is to repeat that feat for a third successive time at Jumeirah Golf Estates.

“I’m happy with four under,” said Sullivan. “I didn’t think I played brilliant golf. Started off really nicely front nine, played really solid. Ten through to 14 I didn’t swing it that great, didn’t give myself that many chances. Found some good swing coming in, which was really good, dug deep there and managed to get a few birdies coming home. Four under is a pretty fair reflection on how I played.

“I wasn’t swinging it that great and a few of the pins I couldn’t quite get at, wasn’t as confident to swing it as well at them. You are playing for 20 feet and from there the percentages are not great. All in all, stayed patient and got my just desserts coming in with those two birdies. That’s what we were talking about before we got out there, it’s about being patient and I’m sure it will be the same tomorrow. There’s a lot of golf to be played, a lot of birdies to be made tomorrow. Just got to go out there and play golf. If I play as good as I did the first two days I’ll be a confident man.”

Wallace, three behind heading into round three, outscored his playing partner and compatriot Sullivan by a stroke to card a five under par 67 and narrow the deficit to two at the top of the leaderboard. Sullivan’s 68 means he remains on course for a wire-to-wire victory as he moved to a 21-under par total.

Ross Fisher, playing alongside Sullivan and Wallace, signed for a four under 68 to remain in touch of his fellow Englishmen, just three shots off the lead at 18 under par. He was joined in a share of third place by Renato Paratore, the Italian’s 65 moving him into contention for a second title of the campaign having won the Betfred British Masters hosted by Lee Westwood in June.

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