Rory McIlroy will take a one shot lead in to the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, with a thrilling final day battle ahead as he goes in search of a first Rolex Series victory.
The four-time Major winner recorded a five under par round of 67 at Abu Dhabi Golf Club to get to 13 under par and reclaim the lead he relinquished to Ryder Cup team mate Tyrrell Hatton at the conclusion of the second round.
After starting the week with a sparkling 64 to top the leaderboard in the opening event of the 2021 season, the Northern Irishman needed a birdie on Saturday morning to sign for a level par 72 as the delayed second round was completed, and he was three shots off the lead after 36 holes.
But McIlroy roared back to come within touching distance of a first win at an event where he has been runner up four times, carding an eagle and five birdies to move one shot clear of three-time Rolex Series winner Hatton, with double Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship winner Tommy Fleetwood a shot further back.
American David Lipsky and Scot Marc Warren are at ten under par after a pair of 68s, one shot ahead of Spaniard Rafa Cabrera Bello, with Australia’s Jason Scrivener at eight under.
Meanwhile, Frenchman Alex Levy holed his tee shot from 163 yards with a nine iron at the par three 15th hole at Abu Dhabi Golf Club to win a BMW M850I Coupe.
Rory McIlroy: “Today was a little better. It’s so blustery and it’s a different type of golf than we’re used to playing here in Abu Dhabi where there’s usually not much wind. You feel like you have a chance on every hole. There’s like a little more scrambling involved and longer putts.
“I thought I did well today. Obviously had that big stroke of luck on ten, the ball hitting the pin and going in. Apart from that, I played well. I drove it much better on the back nine and I hit it much better on the back nine, so I was really encouraged with that.
“I can’t go into tomorrow thinking it’s my turn. I want to make it my turn. I have to go out there and continue to hit the ball like I hit it on the back nine tonight. If I can do that and give myself plenty of chances, I’ll have a real chance.”
Tyrrell Hatton: “It was a difficult day. The conditions were really tough for the whole day. Although I’m pretty disappointed to be honest. I feel like coming back in this morning, I didn’t finish off my round too well and I didn’t actually do anything too wrong.
“Then today, round three, I just felt like I had nothing really go my way. Hit a couple decent shots and ran into a bunker with a terrible lie and had quite a few putts burning the edge or lipping out. Pretty disappointed.
“It’s pretty cool group to be a part of tomorrow. I’m sure the standard of golf will be pretty good and hoping that I can play well and give myself a chance to win.”
Tommy Fleetwood: “Just played solid. Was kind of in control for most of the round. Got on that nice little run on ten, 11, and 12. Holed a couple long putts and you’re off and running. When you’re out there, you keep hitting golf shots and doing whatever you need to do and don’t really think that much about it whether you’re playing that well or probably feel you’re playing worse than when you’re playing well. Really good round of golf. Just happy to be in contention again.
“I think over the course of my career I’ve been a pretty good putter, and I think when it’s a sort of slow, steady progress, which most things are, it’s hard to see the improvements but I think year-on-year in general, as a yearly think, my putting’s progressively gotten better.
“I think it stands out sometimes when I have weeks where I hit it really good and all you see is like the odd putt missing, and you feel like putting has cost you a tournament. But I’ve been doing a lot of great work.
“Worked with Phil for a long time and everything that goes into it. And it’s one of those things, putting has never been a strength for me, and so it requires a lot of work and it’s just been a lot of progress and I’ve worked really hard on, it psychological side, technical side, so it’s nice to hear some compliments about it.”