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Haotong Li takes the lead in Dubai

Haotong Li of China tees off on the 8th hole with the city as a backdrop during day three of Omega Dubai Desert Classic at Emirates Golf Club on January 27, 2018 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)
Haotong Li of China tees off on the 8th hole with the city as a backdrop during day three of Omega Dubai Desert Classic at Emirates Golf Club on January 27, 2018 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)

Li Haotong will take a one shot lead into the final round of the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, but he will have two-time winner Rory McIlroy breathing down his neck at Emirates Golf Club.

The Chinese fired a 64 to get to 20 under and will be aiming for not just a second European Tour victory on Sunday but also the new low record to par for the tournament, set at 22 under by Thomas Bjørn in 2001.

Haotong’s eight under par third round was close to flawless as he compiled eight birdies and not a single dropped shot to surge into the lead.

McIlroy had played the remaining seven holes of his weather-affected second round in five under in the morning to lead by two, but he was not always at his brilliant best in round three as he stuttered over the front nine to reach the turn in one over par.

But a back nine of 32 saw him sign for a 68 move back into contention to equal Ernie Els as a three-time winner of the Omega Dubai Desert Classic.

Alexander Levy of France – who recorded the second hole in one of the week at the fourth – and South Africa’s Haydn Porteous are at 17 under, a shot clear of Englishman Andy Sullivan and two ahead of his compatriot David Horsey.

Player quotes

Li Haotong: “I played really solid. I had a couple of up-and-downs, and I was quite happy to shoot eight under on this course.

“Actually, that tee shot (on the 18th) wasn’t too good. I left it high on the face, I was surprised it was on the fairway when I got down there. I was quite lucky, second shot gets on the green, easy four.

“I just want to play by myself and play my game. I mean, I thought if I just stayed patient, I’ll play good. It was just very comfortable today and I made a lot of putts, obviously. I’ve never been in this position before, so it’s going to be fun out there tomorrow. Hopefully I can do my best out there and have some low scores.”

Rory McIlroy: “Hopefully that’s the bad one out of the way. I didn’t get off to too bad a start, just a couple of loose ones. Missed a short one on four and made bogey on eight. But to come back with a five under back nine was good. It was good to knock that birdie in at the last and stay within one of Li.

“I’ll probably need to play a bit better tomorrow to win, but you know, it’s two weeks into the season and I’ve given myself a second chance to win a tournament. Looking forward to tomorrow.

“I showed that even whenever I didn’t have my best stuff today, I was able to battle around and get in at a decent score. So hopefully I have a bit of a better game tomorrow. I’m looking forward to it. It would be great to put my name on that trophy for a third time.

“This is one of my favourite tournaments of the year, a place I’ve always done well at, some good memories. Maybe that experience of winning a couple of times around here, being in contention quite a lot, will help me tomorrow.”

Haydn Porteous: “To come early doors in the morning to finish our second round, I knew I needed to pace myself, and knew I could go back to the house and have a nice little swim and forget about golf for a bit.

“I got back to the course and I felt really comfortable about my game. I knew I needed to do the same as I had done the first two days, and I managed to do that. I made some really decent putts and my scrambling was probably the best it’s been in a long time.

“You know, it’s amazing how when your short game can help you out, it just keeps the momentum going. That’s what I did today. I wouldn’t say I hit it incredible. I wouldn’t say I hit anything very close, but I took advantage of opportunities that I had and all of a sudden you’re seven under for the day.”

Alexander Levy: “That was a perfect yardage, little nine iron (on the fourth). I hit a perfect shot straight to the flag and I don’t know, I got lucky because it’s a lot of downhill, left-to-right.

“I promise you, the last few days I played some good golf. I just enjoyed it and tried to hit the perfect shots. I had a good stretch from nine to 14. And from there I started to think, “I’m leading the tournament”, so I put a little bit more pressure on my shoulders, and I missed three short putts in a row.

“But I bounced back on 18 with a great birdie. Two great shots, one perfect drive, one perfect three iron against the wind. It was good to finish well and to sleep with a birdie in my mind.”

Round three scores

196 H Li (Chn) 66 66 64,

197 R McIlroy (Nir) 65 64 68,

199 H Porteous (RSA) 66 68 65, A Levy (Fra) 67 67 65,

200 A Sullivan (Eng) 67 70 63,

201 D Horsey (Eng) 63 70 68,

202 T Olesen (Den) 67 68 67, B Grace (RSA) 68 65 69, R Cabrera Bello (Esp) 69 69 64, D Frittelli (RSA) 69 67 66, T Hatton (Eng) 64 72 66, D Lipsky (USA) 69 66 67, C Paisley (Eng) 65 69 68, J Wang (Kor) 69 66 67,

203 L Jensen (Den) 65 68 70, T Aiken (RSA) 67 67 69, I Poulter (Eng) 68 70 65, T Detry (Bel) 68 66 69, A Björk (Swe) 65 68 70, M Jiménez (Esp) 66 68 69,

204 A Dodt (Aus) 67 69 68, T Fleetwood (Eng) 69 69 66, H Stenson (Swe) 70 64 70, B An (Kor) 72 67 65, B Rumford (Aus) 68 70 66, M Kaymer (Ger) 68 69 67,

205 S Hend (Aus) 71 66 68, D Burmester (RSA) 67 69 69, P Perez (USA) 69 69 67, G Havret (Fra) 70 68 67, S Garcia (Esp) 67 69 69, N Colsaerts (Bel) 69 68 68, A Cañizares (Esp) 67 68 70, E Molinari (Ita) 67 69 69,

206 A Chesters (Eng) 70 69 67, J Scrivener (Aus) 70 68 68, T Immelman (RSA) 69 66 71, S Brazel (Aus) 68 70 68, A Wu (Chn) 68 68 70, M Kieffer (Ger) 70 68 68, J Donaldson (Wal) 62 69 75,

207 R Karlsson (Swe) 69 70 68, A Romero (Arg) 70 67 70, C Hanson (Eng) 67 70 70, M Southgate (Eng) 68 68 71, A Johnston (Eng) 69 66 72, B Wiesberger (Aut) 67 70 70, R Fisher (Eng) 69 69 69,

208 R Ramsay (Sco) 70 69 69, A Wall (Eng) 63 73 72, N Bertasio (Ita) 70 69 69, S Jamieson (Sco) 68 70 70, A Otaegui (Esp) 70 69 69, M Wallace (Eng) 69 66 73,

209 M Korhonen (Fin) 68 71 70, R Wattel (Fra) 69 70 70, S Sharma (Ind) 69 69 71, K Aphibarnrat (Tha) 71 68 70, G Green (Mas) 70 68 71, M Ilonen (Fin) 68 70 71, L Bjerregaard (Den) 71 68 70, T Pieters (Bel) 65 74 70,

210 S Gallacher (Sco) 71 68 71, P Khongwatmai (Tha) 68 71 71, T Clements (am) (Eng) 69 70 71,

211 L Slattery (Eng) 69 70 72, D Im (USA) 68 71 72,

212 R Sterne (RSA) 70 68 74,

213 M Pavon (Fra) 71 68 74,

216 D Huizing (Ned) 69 70 77,