Rory McIlroy heads into Monday’s final round in a strong position to win a third Hero Dubai Desert Classic title after firing a sensational third round 65 to open up a three-shot lead.
The World Number One began the day two shots behind the halfway co-leaders but opened his third round with four successive birdies to hit the front at Emirates Golf Club.
The 2009 and 2015 champion was caught at the summit after making eight straight pars from the fifth, but bounced back with a hat-trick of birdies at the 13th, 14th and 15th before another gain on the 17th handed him a huge lead.
But after hitting his approach at the 18th into the water, he finished with his only bogey of the day to go into the clubhouse on 15 under par, three clear of Englishmen Dan Bradbury and Callum Shinkwin.
Reigning Joburg Open champion Bradbury, playing alongside McIlroy on Sunday, made five birdies and one bogey in his 68, while two-time DP World Tour winner Shinkwin shot five birdies on the back nine in his 67.
Last week’s winner Victor Perez was among the seven-strong group another shot back on 11 under after his bogey-free 66.
Rory McIlroy: “Obviously got off to a great start with those four birdies in a row. Then hit a little bit of a lull sort of after that. Made a really good par save on 11 that sort of kept my momentum going, and then kick-started again with obviously three nice birdies in a row on 13, 14 and 15.
“So felt like the good golf came in sort of two bursts today, and then the rest of it, it was okay. I held it together. I still don’t feel quite in control of my game. But today was much better than yesterday, so that was a positive.
“I love this golf course. I love this tournament. I’ve won here a couple of times. You know, this is my first start of the year. I don’t think I’ve ever won in my first start of the year. I had plenty of chances at Abu Dhabi down the road over the years, and never quite got it done. So, tomorrow is a nice opportunity to try to do something that I’ve never done before.”
Dan Bradbury: “It was pretty cool. Very unique experience. Got a few shouts of my name but they were mainly for Rory but to be expected. It was great having a lot of people out there.
“Well, you hear so many “Rorys” and then you just hear a random “Dan” in the middle of it, you can’t help but smile. But it’s nice to know that there are people out there wishing me well.
“My game is in the right place. I’m obviously playing some decent stuff. Didn’t really feel like I got the best out of it the first day or today, so hopefully we can have more of round two tomorrow.”
Callum Shinkwin: “Today I wasn’t that great at the start, really. It was solid but nothing special. The back nine just got the better of people early on and stayed close behind as well.
“Normally it’s the start of the year (playing in Dubai), you’re always excited to come out and play and you have great weather, normally. Yeah, it’s great coming out here and playing. It’s like summer back home, isn’t it, 25, 30 degrees and pure sunshine.
“I don’t really think about it too much. Tomorrow is another day. It’s weird playing till Monday but it is what it is. Hopefully go and do the job tomorrow.”
Victor Perez: “It wasn’t as clean as probably the scorecard says. I struggled a bit at the start with a good up-and-down on 2, I chipped in on 3. Made some nice putts. Got a bit fortunate out of the rough where the ball ended up in a decent spot where you can never 100 per cent predict, so I was quite happy with that.
“I think the good side of it is that you know you’re playing well, and the guarantee is the outcome of the previous week, so obviously that gives you a lot of confidence. Probably the downside is that, you know, people might expect you to play well. The best players in the world deal with that every week, so eventually if you want to progress and lead to the top 20, 10, No. 1 in the world, it’s something that you have to learn how to manage.
“It would be incredible to go back-to-back, obviously two Rolex Series Events to start the year, it would be incredible.”