Graeme McDowell grabbed a one-shot lead over Victor Dubuisson after the third round of the Saudi International on Saturday as the Northern Irishman closed on a first European Tour win since 2014.
The 2010 US Open champion fired a four-under-par 66 at a wind-swept Royal Greens Golf Club to reach 12-under overall.
Dubuisson shot a brilliant bogey-free 65, the joint best card of the day.
The 29-year-old, who once ranked as high as 15th in the world but has dropped down to 478 after struggling with a wrist injury, will be looking for his third European Tour win, but first since the Turkish Open in November 2015.
Malaysia’s Gavin Green returned an even-par 70 to be third at nine-under, three behind McDowell, while defending champion Dustin Johnson was in a group of three players at seven-under par.
Tied alongside the former world number one were Italian Renato Paratore and overnight leader Victor Perez of France.
Current world number one Brooks Koepka matched Dubuisson’s 65 and rose to tied seventh at six-under along with Belgium’s Thomas Detry and Phil Mickelson.
McDowell was looking forward to his battle with Dubuisson, having played the mentor’s role when the two formed a successful partnership in the 2014 Ryder Cup at Gleneagles.
In the run-up to that Ryder Cup, one of the biggest talking points was who would partner the temperamental Frenchman, then dubbed ‘Greta Garbo of golf’ by the media.
“We shared a car up to the course this morning and I was chatting with him and I always look out for him,” said McDowell.
“We had great experiences with him in 2014 at Gleneagles.
“He’s such a great guy and he hasn’t had the best form the last few years and I’m really, really happy to see him at the top of the leaderboard and looking forward to being with him tomorrow.
“It’s going to be tough to try and play tough against him, but we’re both competitors and we’ll go out there and try and do our job.”
– McDowell sinks ‘bonus’ putts –
GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP/File / SAM GREENWOOD
Dubuisson has slipped to 478th in the world rankings
McDowell’s round featured five birdies, two of them coming after he made long-range putts from off the green on the 12th and 13th holes.
He also made a long putt to save par on the ninth after having just made his only bogey of the day on the previous hole.
“That putt on the ninth was massive because I just bogeyed eighth and the putter was cold,” added McDowell, currently ranked 104th in the world.
“Those two putts from off the green on 12 and 13, those are just massive bonuses at that point.”
Dubuisson made three birdies in a row from the second hole with terrific irons shots in the wind, and then added two more on the back nine.
After starting the 2020 season with a tied 69th place in Abu Dhabi and a missed cut in Dubai, Dubuisson said he had a long conversation with his coach.
“I had a long chat with my coach after Abu Dhabi because it was the first time he came to the whole tournament, so he saw me play the whole four days and he said, ‘It’s not possible, your swing is good. It’s not possible that you hit the ball like this’,” said Dubuisson.
“So I decided to take my old set of clubs that I was using two years ago and I found my game into the wind again. I’m quite happy now.
“We haven’t played together since the Ryder Cup, so I’m very happy to play with Graeme tomorrow.”