Rory McIlroy leads DP World Tour Championship after new adventure at 17th

Two-time champion will start final round on Sunday with one-stroke lead over playing partner Sam Horsfield

All golfers have been there. You have hit your shot offline. It has dribbled into a precarious position, the odds of escaping which are slim.

You want to have a crack at it – what’s the worst that could happen? But then your mind wanders back to the last time this happened, and the disaster that ensued.

For weekend hackers, it repeats itself every couple of rounds, if not every few holes.

Even Rory McIlroy can empathise. His tee-shot at the 17th hole of the third round of the DP World Tour Championship erred from the planned route to the hole, and ended up settling on a stone slab inches from the water surrounding the island green.

He scarcely had a stance. Flip it forward, and it would likely catch the lip of turf in front of him. Attempting anything other than returning to the drop zone would be fraught with jeopardy.

All of which reminded him of that time last season when he was playing with arguably the greatest player in the game’s history. A certain Tiger Woods.

“It was reminiscent of when I missed the second hole in [TPC] Boston to the right when I was playing with Tiger [last year],” McIlroy said cheerily, after his latest adventure at Jumeirah Golf Estates.

“I tried to hit it out of the hazard and it went straight back behind me into the water.”

Happily, the result was different this time. McIlroy took the shot on again this time. His chip went through the green, but safely enough that he required just the two shots back.

He gratefully moved on with a bogey four, then birdied the last to sign for a 5-under par 67. That moved him to a tournament aggregate of 14-under, and a one-stroke lead before the start of the final day.

The 32-year-old Northern Irishman has form on the 17th at Earth Course. Back in 2015, he said he had “the best bogey of my career” to thank as he sealed a DP World and Race to Dubai double – having found the water that time in his final round.

Where this one ranks will probably be dependent on how the final day pans out. He goes in the final round with Sam Horsfield, the 25-year-old Englishman who starts a shot back on 13-under, at 12.05pm.

It might be assumed McIlroy will hope the final 18 of the season pass without any such drama as happened at the penultimate hole on Saturday. But he clearly enjoyed the escapade.

“Harry [Diamond, his caddie] was pleading with me not to hit it,” McIlroy said.

“He was saying, ‘No, we can make four, then make four at the last’.

“I could have looked very silly, but it didn’t feel as if it was quite as risky as the one in Boston.

“I thought I’d take it on and it would be an easier four if I could get it to where I wanted to get it to.

“The chip nearly went in for three, but I wasn’t going to be greedy.”

McIlroy will start Sunday with a one-shot advantage over Horsfield, and two ahead of Alexander Bjork and Robert McIntyre, who are tied for third.

Collin Morikawa, who now appears assured of being the first American to win the Race to Dubai, is in the third-last match out. He is in a group of four players on 11-under par.

“You want to take stuff on,” McIlroy said of his gameplan to close out a third DP World Tour Championship win.

“I’ve never enjoyed hitting it to 40ft and try to two putt. I’d rather take shots on. It is about the enjoyment I get out of pulling stuff like that off.

“I’d rather lose trying to win than lose defensively. I’ve learnt that the hard way over the years. I can live with myself if I take shots on and they don’t come off because at least I’m giving myself the best chance.”

Updated: November 20th 2021, 2:30 PM
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