Dubai: Tiger Woods was just one stroke behind the Dubai Desert Classic third-round leaders on Saturday after a topsy-turvy, even-par 72 in gusting winds left him firmly in contention to end a 14-month wait for victory.
Dane Anders Hansen (71), South African Thomas Aiken (74) and Briton Rory McIlroy (75) led the way on eight-under 208, with 14-times major winner Woods one of seven players on 209. World number one Lee Westwood (72) was back on 211.
Woods stumbled to the turn in 39, mixing one birdie with three bogeys and a double-bogey six at the ninth.
The twice former Dubai champion, though, reignited his title charge by storming back in 33 with three birdies, one eagle and a single dropped stroke.
"It was a tough day but if I got even-par I figured that would be a good goal," world number three Woods told reporters.
"I'm only one back, still right there in the ball game."
The 35-year-old American shares fourth place with Frenchman Jean-Baptiste Gonnet (72), Australia's Brett Rumford (72), Swede Fredrik Andersson Hed (69) and Spanish trio Alvaro Quiros (68), Sergio Garcia (75) and Alvaro Velasco (65).
McIlroy, who led on his own after the opening two rounds, made a woeful start with four bogeys in seven holes.
He also dropped a stroke at the 11th but birdies at the ninth and 12th meant the 21-year-old from Northern Ireland was well placed in his bid to record a second Dubai Classic triumph.
"I got off to a rough start but I thought I steadied the ship really well," said 2009 champion McIlroy. "I played the last 11 holes in one under which was actually pretty good.
TEST OF PATIENCE
"It's now going to be a test of patience and about trying to play smart golf and make pars and make the odd birdie when you can get it. Overall I wish I had played a little better today and given myself a bit more of an advantage."
Aiken had three bogeys and a solitary birdie at the 14th in his round while twice former European PGA champion Hansen registered three birdies and two dropped shots.
Woods is looking for his first win since capturing the Australian Masters crown at the end of 2009.
"There are a bunch of guys in there with a chance and ... tomorrow you never know," he said.
Woods's double-bogey came when he dumped his second shot in the water guarding the ninth green.
He battled back with an eagle three at the 10th and a birdie at the next before ending his round by coaxing in a curling left-to-right, 25-foot putt at the last, prompting two pumps of his right fist in an outburst of emotion.
Garcia, without a European Tour victory since the Champions Tournament in Shanghai in November 2008, led for long spells on Saturday before taking a double-bogey six at the 17th after a wayward drive into bushes cost him a penalty drop.
Frenchman Raphael Jacquelin recorded a hole-in-one at the par-three seventh on the way to a 69 for 211.
World number two Martin Kaymer, who entered the event with hopes of replacing Westwood at the top of the rankings, struggled in the wind and posted a four-over 76 for 216.