Rory McIlroy will take a one-shot lead into the final round of the DP World Tour Championship after a birdie on the last handed him a third-round 67 to get to 14 under par in Dubai. Shane Lowry sits three shots behind on 11 under after a topsy-turvy round of 71.
McIlroy is a two-time winner of the European Tour’s season-ending event and a third victory would make it back-to-back wins worldwide after his PGA Tour triumph at the CJ Cup last month.
He has not achieved that feat since 2014, when he won the British Open, WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and US PGA Championship — his fourth and last Major success to date — on consecutive starts.
That looked a distant prospect as he lost his first three matches in September’s Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits, where his victory over Xander Schauffele in the singles was followed by an emotional interview in which he said he felt he had let his team-mates down.
Since then he has parted ways with swing coach Pete Cowen and returned to long-time mentor Michael Bannon, revealing this week that he was taking more personal ownership of his game.
The move seems to be paying dividends and he will head into the final round over the Earth Course at 14 under, one shot clear of England’s Sam Horsfield and two ahead of Scot Robert MacIntyre and Swede Alexander Bjork.
“I’m looking forward to it,” McIlroy said. “I’m right where I want to be. I want to be contending on Sundays in golf tournaments and feel like I’m back to playing the way I should and the way that will get me back contending. I’m excited. I’m excited to go out there and try to pick up another one.”
Entering the day a shot off the lead after a double bogey on the last on day two, McIlroy led by two as he recovered from an opening bogey with birdies on the second, third, sixth, ninth, 10th and 14th.
There was drama at the Par 3 17th when his ball held up on a rock above the water. After some deliberation McIlroy opted to play the shot and managed to chunk it across to the far fringe from where he very nearly holed his pitch shot for a miraculous par. In the end it was a bogey but a birdie four at the Par 5 18th got him back into the lead on his own after Horsfield bogeyed the same hole.
Lowry started the day in a tie for the lead and in the final group but stalled a little bit with a bad stretch around the turn.
After picking up birdies on the second and seventh to lead on his own, the 2019 British Open champion made a double bogey at the eighth after finding a fairway bunker off the tee, splashing out and failing to get up and down from the side of the green with his fourth shot.
Things would then get worse before they got better for Lowry as he was forced to take an unplayable at the Par 4 10th, resulting in a bogey five.
However, he managed to fight back to keep his chances alive by rolling in a long birdie putt at the 11th before making a 20 foot putt to save par on the 12th.
Another birdie would follow at the 14th and four straight pars to finish for a round of 71 and a total of 11 under, three behind McIlroy.
A two-time winner in 2020, Horsfield is looking for the biggest victory of his career and carded a 69 on day three after holding a share of the lead after 36 holes.
“It was a little sloppy, it wasn’t my best stuff,” he said.
“I’ve played with Rory a few times. He’s a good dude and I’m really looking forward to it. Just try to play good golf again and see what happens.”
MacIntyre holed a 72-foot putt for birdie on the fourth and added an eagle on the seventh but also bogeyed the last after finding the water in his 67.
“I’m playing great and I’m committing to every shot and I’m accepting everything,” he said. “That’s when I play my best golf.”
British Open champion Collin Morikawa carded a 69 to sit three shots off the lead and remained in pole position to become the first American to take the Race to Dubai title and be crowned Europe’s number one.
DP World Tour Championship leaderboard (British unless stated, Par 72)
202 Rory McIlroy (NIrl) 65 70 67