Rory McIlroy enjoyed the chance to win a third Slync.io Dubai Desert Classic title after moving within two strokes of the lead on his way to the final round at Emirates Golf Club.
The Northern Irishman scored a 69 on day three to get to 10 under at the event he won in 2009 and 2015, two strokes behind South African Justin Harding who retained his half-time advantage with a 71.
McIlroy’s Ryder Cup team-mate Tommy Fleetwood was at nine under, a hold of three more members of the European team that humiliated 19-9 in Whistling Straits in defending champions Paul Casey, Tyrrell Hatton and Bernd Wiesberger.
But all eyes will be on McIlroy in the fourth round as the four-time major winner wants to turn his improved ball into another victory at the scene of his very first DP World Tour triumph.
The 32-year-old said he “hit the ball as well as I did in a long time” after round two and this was certainly true on the back nine, for he struck three beautiful second strokes in par five that set up an eagle and two birdies.
He made two more birdies on the top nine to go with three bogeys and was excited to have another chance to complete his Desert Classic hat-trick after losing little to Li Haotong in 2018.
“I’m excited,” he said. “Had a very good chance in 2018 and let it slip through my fingers when Haotong won. Good to give myself another chance.
“It will be nice to get another victory, especially here in Dubai. But it’s obviously fun to win anywhere early in the season. So I just have to go there tomorrow and try to play a good round of golf and hopefully it’s good enough.
Some good stuff in there and some bad stuff too, and I feel like it all leveled towards the end and it was nice to hit the last birdie and shoot something in the 60’s and myself in the final group tomorrow to play.
Harding seemed to fall away when he turned 36 with eight pairs and a bogey on the top nine, with Hatton and Lee Westwood rising to the top of the standings.
But the English duo stumbled across the line in rounds of 73 and 71 respectively, enabling Harding to hit birdies on the 12th and 13th coins.
“At the end of the day, I just have to go out and keep doing what I do and make some birdies and shoot 70, 69, something like that,” he said. “Let them shoot five or six below par and give them credit.
“I am very happy with it and will go again tomorrow.”
Another South African in Erik van Rooyen was next to Fleetwood at nine below, with England’s Richard Bland in the group at eight below, one ahead of Westwood and three-time major champion Padraig Harrington.
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