Rory McIlroy will take a three-shot lead into the final round of the Hero Dubai Desert Classic after a late blunder gave the chasing pack renewed hope of preventing his third win in the event.
Starting the day two shots off the lead, McIlroy surged to the top of the leaderboard with birdies on the first four holes before his momentum stalled with eight straight pars.
The world number one then birdied the 13th, 14th, 15th and 17th as he threatened to leave the field trailing in his wake at Emirates Golf Club, only to hit his approach to the 18th into the water to run up his only bogey of the day.
The resulting 65 gave McIlroy a total of 15 under par, with England’s Callum Shinkwin and Dan Bradbury his nearest challengers on 12 under. Patrick Reed and Ian Poulter were part of a seven-strong group a shot further back.
McIlroy, whose bogey on the 18th was a carbon copy of the one in last year’s final round which cost him a play-off place, said: “Obviously I 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 sort of kept my momentum going, and then kick-started again with obviously three nice birdies in a row on 13, 14 and 15.
“I felt like the good golf came in two bursts today, and then the rest of 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.
“It’s nearly there. 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.
“It would be great (to win). I love this golf course. I love this tournament, I’ve won here a couple of times. 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.”
Bradbury is seeking a second win of the season after claiming the Joburg Open in November on just his third start on the DP World Tour and will again play alongside McIlroy in the final round.
“It was pretty cool, a very unique experience,” Bradbury said. “Got a few shouts of my name but they were mainly for Rory, which is to be expected. It was great having a lot of people out there.
“When you hear so many ‘Rorys’ and then you just hear a random ‘Dan’ in the middle of it, you can’t help but smile. But it’s nice to know that there are people out there wishing me well.”
Reed’s third round of 69 included six birdies, a double bogey and a controversial incident on the par-four 17th when his tee shot on the driveable par four lodged in a palm tree.
The former Masters champion and rules officials used binoculars to identify the ball, allowing Reed to take a penalty drop near the base of the tree instead of having to return to the tee.
Reed, who is no stranger to rules issues, told the Telegraph: “I would have gone back to the tee if I wasn’t 100 percent.
“I got lucky that we were able to look through the binoculars and you have to make sure it’s your ball and how I mark my golf balls is I always put an arrow on the end of my line.
“And you could definitely see and identify the line with the arrow on the end, and the rules official, luckily, was there to reconfirm and check it to make sure it was mine as well.”