Rory McIlroy closes in on landing record-equalling third Hero Dubai Desert Classic trophy

Northern Irishman goes into final day at Emirates Golf Club with three-shot lead

Powered by automated translation

Even a second successive bogey to close a Sunday at the Dubai Desert Classic did little to dampen Rory McIlroy’s mood.

Like last year, the four-time major champion found the water that guards the green on 18 with his second shot, but whereas 12 months ago it wrecked his chances of victory – McIlroy eventually finished third – this time it simply cut into a still-sizeable lead.

And given the weather-affected tournament will for the first time run into Monday, McIlroy has another 18 holes to either extend his three-shot advantage, or merely stay clear of the chasing pack.

Do that, and the world No 1 will land a record-equalling third Dallah trophy.

“Yeah, it would be great,” said the 2009 and 2015 champion. “I love this golf course. I love this tournament. I've won here a couple of times. 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.”

Given McIlroy’s CV – the four majors, the four Order of Merit crowns, the three FedExCup titles, the 35 professional wins – new feats of excellence are understandably pretty hard to come by.

In the 14 events played to open his season thus far in his career, McIlroy has recorded an incredible 12 top fives, including four runner-up finishes. Yet victory has eluded him.

On Sunday, for the delayed third round at Emirates Golf Club, McIlroy seemed dead set on putting that right – from the off.

He began with four birdies on the bounce, then added another four in a five-hole stretch from 13. At one point, his lead was five.

Then came the bogey on 18 – his only dropped shot of the day - when he failed to get up and down from the drop zone after his 252-yard approach plonked into the drink.

Still, McIlroy signed for a 7-under-par 65 to end the day on 15-under, three ahead of English duo Callum Shinkwin and Dan Bradbury, and four in front of a posse of six that includes Patrick Reed, Ian Poulter and last week’s Abu Dhabi winner Victor Perez.

Summing up his most aesthetically pleasing round of a week that until then he described as “sloppy”, McIlroy said: “It was much better. Obviously got off to a great start with those four birdies in a row. Then hit a little bit of a lull after that.

“Made a really good par save on 11 that kept my momentum going, and then kick-started again with 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 OK. 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.”

All in all, not bad considering McIlroy, drained apparently from balancing his drive back to the summit of the game with his extremely public opposition to LIV Golf, did not touch a club in anger for four weeks leading into Dubai.

“It's nearly there,” McIlroy said. “It's not quite there, but I'm making the most of the good 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.”

Updated: January 29, 2023, 2:37 PM