DUBAI (Agencies): Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy shot a three-under 69 in the third round of Dubai Desert Classic to move two shots behind leader Justin Harding.
The South African, leader at the midway point, carded a 71 to sit 12 under par. McIlroy’s eventful round ended with a tap-in birdie on the par-five 18th to get him in Sunday’s last group with Harding and England’s Tommy Fleetwood.
Fleetwood is on nine under alongside Erik van Rooyen, one clear of Tyrrell Hatton, Paul Casey and Richard Bland. McIlroy birdied the first after a stunning approach and although the 32-year-old gave the shot back on the third, he holed from distance on the seventh to move one under for the day again.
A brilliant second on the long 10th set up an eagle but a plugged lie at the next led to a bogey. A two-putt birdie on the 13th got him back to 10 under par but again he faltered, a poor tee-shot on the 16th leading to his third bogey of the round.
The four-time major champion will hope his closing birdie at Emirates’ Majlis course allows him to put pressure on his final-round playing partner Harding as they both seek their first Rolex Series title.
If McIlroy takes the title he will become the second man after South African Ernie Els to win the trophy three times. “I’m excited,” said McIlroy, who lived in Dubai for four years. “I had a really good chance back in 2018. I sort of let it slip through my fingers there and Li Haotong won. It’s nice to be able to give myself another opportunity.”
Harding, 35, already has two DP World Tour titles to his name, though, and shot a 63 on the Majlis course as he finished in the top 10 of the 2019 Dubai Desert Classic.
“I’ve just got to go out and keep doing what I’m doing and make a couple of birdies and shoot 70, 69, something like that,” he said.
“Make them shoot five or six under par to win and credit to them if they do.”
Englishmen Hatton and Westwood charged around the front half of the iconic course but faltered coming home.
Hatton made three birdies on the front nine while Westwood recovered from an opening bogey to birdie the second, third, fifth, sixth, seventh and 10th.
However Westwood dropped a shot at the 14th and made a triple bogey on the last after hitting a wayward drive and then finding water while Hatton gave away four shots in four holes from the 12th.
Westwood ended the day on seven under alongside Padraig Harrington, five shots behind Harding – with Sergio Garcia and Viktor Hovland among those six back.