Eight years ago, Ross Fisher was fetching balls for Tiger Woods on the practice range. Now, the Englishman holds a five-shot lead over the defending champion going into the third round of the Dubai Desert Classic.
Fisher shot a second consecutive 7-under 65 on Friday for a halfway score of 14 under, while Woods struggled with his putting for the second straight day and finished with a 67 to stand at 9 under.
"It was kind of weird," Woods said. "I just didn't feel like I made many putts today. I was all around the hole and most of them were actually misreads."
Three-time Desert Classic winner Ernie Els climbed within two strokes of the lead with an eagle on the 13th hole before play was cut short by darkness at the Emirates Golf Club. A rare Dubai thunderstorm delayed play for more than two hours, leaving Fisher with a clubhouse lead of four strokes over Peter Hanson and Graeme McDowell.
"I'm hitting the ball probably as good as I've ever hit it," said Fisher, who had eight birdies and a bogey. "It would be tough to have a third 65, but you know it's out there if you play well."
The Desert Classic is just the second tournament in which Fisher has been the leader -- the first was the 2005 China Open.
The 26-year-old Englishman described how he'd spent his early years in awe of Woods and said the closest contact he had with him was when he worked as a teenager on a driving range at the World Match Play Championship at Wentworth in England.
"I've never met him or spoken to him," he said.
Now Fisher faces the possibility of playing alongside Woods today if they are the top two heading into the final round.
"It would be an absolute thrill to play with the best player in the world," Fisher said. "Obviously all the pressure is going to be on him because he's expected to win. No one's going to be thinking, `I think Ross can take this guy on.' I'll try not to watch him too closely because at the end of the day, I'm going to try and beat the guy."
Woods had five birdies and no bogeys. On the 13th, Woods fell to his knees and bashed the ground with his club in frustration after a chip for an eagle dribbled a few inches from the hole. He settled for a birdie.
"I've got to go practice first of all and get organized and be ready for tomorrow," Woods said. "It's just a matter of going out there and making a bunch of birdies. The golf course is pretty benign."
Playing the back nine first, Woods dueled all day with partner Miguel Jimenez. The Spaniard was at 11 under for a few holes before he bogeyed the 15th and ninth and finished with a 68. He was tied with Woods at 9 under.
Woods enjoyed bantering with the ponytailed Jimenez.
"He's so funny," Woods said. "Some of the one-liners he comes up with out there are pretty good."
By the end of Friday, Els was at 12 under after 14 holes, with McDowell and Hanson in the clubhouse at 10 under. Swede Henrik Stenson was also at 10 under with four holes left to play. Stenson, Els and 34 others were scheduled to complete the second round yesterday morning.
Els said the rain had slowed the greens and left him slipping in the mud.
But the South African made the green on the par-5, 13th hole in two shots, then holed a 4m putt for an eagle.
"I've got to keep my foot on the pedal," Els said.
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