Rory McIlroy storms into Dubai lead despite final hole splash
Rory McIlroy will take a three-shot lead into the final round of the Hero Dubai Desert Classic but it might easily have been more had he not splashed down and made a bogey at the last.
Two strokes off the pace at halfway, the Holywood star wasted little time hitting the top of the leaderboard as he birdied the first four holes, then followed a great par save at the 11th by picking up another four shots in five holes from the 13th to move four clear.
He looked odds on to extend his lead when he split the 18th fairway with a three-wood but came up well short in the water with his second and made bogey in a repeat of the six that cost him a chance of a playoff with Viktor Hovland last year.
A seven-under 65 still left him three strokes clear of English duo Callum Shinkwin (67) and Dan Bradbury (68) on 15 under and in with a chance of starting a calendar year with a win for the first time and claiming his first Rolex Series title.
"Yeah, it was much better," said McIlroy, who is guaranteed to remain world number one after Jon Rahm closed with a 74 to finish tied seventh behind Max Homa in the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines last night.
“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."
Patrick Reed, who labelled McIlroy “an immature little child” after being ignored by the four-time major winner earlier in the week, is tied for fourth, four shots behind McIlroy on 11-under alongside Shaun Norris, Victor Perez, Angel Hidalgo, Ian Poulter, Adri Arnaus and Richard Bland after a 69.
But while he still admits he is not quite firing on all cylinders, McIlroy believes he's close to playing his best after working on his driving after Saturday's second round in what is his first start for two months
“Again, first tournament back out, it shows you what you need to work on," McIlroy said. "So I went to the range last night and hit some balls and tried to straighten the driver out a little bit.
"I hit a few more fairways. I felt like I drove the ball better today.
“The statistics probably wouldn't say that, but I drove the ball a lot better, which put me in positions to attack and make birdies.
"It's nearly there. It's not quite there, but I'm making the most of the go shots that I'm hitting and putting well.
"I'm playing really efficient golf right now with the chances I'm giving myself. I'm converting, and that's the reason I'm on the score that I am."
As for the possibility of matching Padraig Harrington and grabbing his 15th DP World Tour win, he's feeling good.
"Yeah, it would be great," he admitted. "I love this golf course. I love this tournament. You know, as you said, 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."
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