Argentine golfer Jose Cocerces can already smell his first European Tour victory in over six years.
Yesterday at the Dubai Creek Golf and Yacht Club, Cocerces carded seven birdies in a 4-under-par round of 68 that extended his lead to five shots going into Sunday's final round of the $1.36 million Dubai Desert Classic.
Coerces, who held a four-stroke advantage over Britain's Jamie Spence heading into Saturday's third round, finished the day with a 15-under par total of 201. Spence shot 69 to remain in second place at 206, one shot in front of compatriots Russel Claydon and Lee Westwood. Swede Jarmo Sandelin had the day's best round, shooting a 63 to jump from 58th to a tie for eighth in the field. Sandelin was joined at 210 by British Open champion Paul Lawrie of Scotland and Darren Clarke of Northern Ireland, who both shot 69s.
Cocerces' last tournament victory came at the Catalonia Open in 1994. The 37-year old now finds himself in unfamiliar territory--with a commanding lead and only 18 holes remaining.
Cocerces said: "There is more pressure in this tournament with so many good players, including Lee Westwood, not far behind. I have a good feeling, but I don't know if I'll sleep tonight."
Westwood insisted Coerces' lead was not invincible. "As you can see from my first two rounds, it's possible to shoot 64 as much as it is to shoot 75," Westwood stated. "Big leads are there to be shot at. I was five behind in last year's Dutch Open and seven behind in the European Open going into the last round, and won."
Cocerces established his lead on Friday, when he displayed a mastery over the intimidating gusting conditions. With the infamous Simal wind swirling at over 50 mph, Cocerces kept his drives low and finished the day with a solid 3-under-par 69. Cocerces credited his performance to his winter workout. "Working out when I took three months off from the tour, have meant that I've come to my first event of the season a stronger person."
If Cocerces does manage to shake his early jitters and prevail in Sunday's final round, one thing is for certain: he will not forget his homeland. "If I do win...I will send a percentage of the winnings home," he said. "I try to look after my brothers and sisters because we come from a very poor family...Whenever I have the chance I go to the really poor neighbourhoods in Buenos Aries because I came from a background like that. I leave food, shoes, clothes and books for the little boys."
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)