Rory McIlroy well-placed to claim a first win in 16 months

McIlroy is just one off the lead in Abu Dhabi while Paul Dunne is also in contention to win

Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland plays his second shot on the ninth hole during round three of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship. Photo: Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland plays his second shot on the ninth hole during round three of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship. Photo: Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

 

Rory McIlroy will begin the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship one shot behind co-leaders Thomas Pieters and Ross Fisher after producing a sensational 65 on Saturday.

Also in contention is Paul Dunne who matched McIlroy’s 65 to go into Sunday four behind the lead.

Playing in his first event since calling an early end to his injury-plagued and winless season in October last year, four-time major champion McIlroy came into the third round three shots behind Ryder Cup partner Pieters after following up Thursday’s 69 with a sparkling 66 on Friday.

And the Northern Irishman continued to make big strides up the leaderboard on day three, carding eight birdies and a solitary bogey to get to 16 under par and close the gap to a single stroke.

“It was another great round and another really good confidence builder,” McIlroy said afterwards. “Not just for this week but for the rest of the season. Winning would mean a lot. I’ve had a lot of close calls here, about six top-threes or something like that.”

Dunne plays his third shot from a bunker on the 18th hole. Photo: Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images
Dunne plays his third shot from a bunker on the 18th hole. Photo: Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

It’s been 16 months now since McIlroy last claimed a trophy when he won the Tour Championship to take the FedEx Cup title on the PGA Tour, but on Sunday he could end that drought and also tick off a first in his career.

“I’ve never won my first start back out,” he said. “It’s felt like a while since I’ve won and just to give myself these chances; I gave myself a chance at the end of the year at Close House and wasn’t able to do it. Paul Dunne played too well for me.

“I felt really comfortable, really relaxed. I haven’t been looking at leaderboards too much. Just been trying to play my game, and it’s going pretty well so far, so I’ll try and do the same thing.”

Until the 15th hole, McIlroy had not dropped a single shot in the tournament but that changed on the par three when his tee shot found the back bunker. Facing a delicate splash shot he left it in the bunker and then played an indifferent third to the fringe, leaving 15 feet for bogey. However, if there’s a way to drop a shot and get some sort of boost out of it then McIlroy did it by rolling in that putt to limit the damage and then going on to chip in for birdie at the 17th before finishing with another birdie at the par five 18th. That capped off his lowest round of the week and leaves him in prime position to pounce on Sunday.

With a little more work to do is Dunne who is a further three shots behind McIlroy and four off the lead after his 65.

Seven birdies and no bogeys give the Greystones man a good springboard to contend in the final round and, like McIlroy with just a solitary bogey in three rounds, he’ll find a lot of confidence in his consistency.

Dunne will partner Dylan Fritelli in the final round while McIlroy plays alongside Matt Fitzpatrick in the penultimate group.

After firing five birdies and no bogeys in his first 17 holes, Pieters produced a good par save at the last to remain at the summit.

Joint leaders Ross Fisher and Thomas Pieters shake hands at the end of the third round. They will partner each other again in the final group for Sunday’s final round. Photo: Andrew Redington/Getty Images
Joint leaders Ross Fisher and Thomas Pieters shake hands at the end of the third round. They will partner each other again in the final group for Sunday’s final round. Photo: Andrew Redington/Getty Images

And Fisher joined the Belgian on 17 under after closing his seven-under-par 65 with a birdie at the 18th.

Defending champion Tommy Fleetwood and fellow Englishman Fitzpatrick were in a tie for fourth place on 15 under.

Fitzpatrick produced the lowest round of the day, carding 10 birdies and one bogey in his superb 63.

Collated third round scores & totals in the European Tour Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, Abu Dhabi GC, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (Britain unless stated, Irish in bold, par 72):

199 Ross Fisher 67 67 65, Thomas Pieters (Bel) 67 65 67

200 Rory McIlroy 69 66 65

201 Tommy Fleetwood 66 68 67, Matthew Fitzpatrick 68 70 63

202 Andrew Johnston 68 68 66, Chris Paisley 69 67 66, Thomas Detry (Bel) 70 68 64

203 Paul Dunne 68 70 65, Branden Grace (Rsa) 72 64 67, Dylan Frittelli (Rsa) 69 67 67

204 Dustin Johnson (USA) 72 64 68, Alexander Levy (Fra) 69 65 70, Paul Casey 70 65 69, Fabrizio Zanotti (Par) 67 69 68, Bernd Wiesberger (Aut) 67 68 69

205 Jeunghun Wang (Kor) 71 67 67, Jorge Campillo (Spa) 69 64 72, Sam Brazel (Aus) 67 68 70

207 Richard Sterne (Rsa) 68 72 67

208 Kristoffer Broberg (Swe) 69 69 70, Ryan Fox (Nzl) 70 66 72, Martin Kaymer (Ger) 69 68 71, Jason Scrivener (Aus) 69 68 71, Andy Sullivan 70 65 73, Dean Burmester (Rsa) 69 72 67, Kiradech Aphibarnrat (Tha) 70 70 68, Tyrrell Hatton 69 70 69, Henrik Stenson (Swe) 70 68 70

209 Seung-su Han (USA) 73 67 69, Scott Hend (Aus) 71 69 69, Stephen Gallacher 68 72 69, Justin Rose 71 71 67, Mikko Ilonen (Fin) 68 74 67, Joost Luiten (Ned) 69 68 72, Brandon Stone (Rsa) 69 70 70, Mikko Korhonen (Fin) 73 68 68, Benjamin Hebert (Fra) 72 68 69

210 Richie Ramsay 68 70 72, Ashun Wu (Chn) 71 67 72, Nicolas Colsaerts (Bel) 69 70 71, Lee Slattery 69 72 69, Nino Bertasio (Ita) 70 71 69

211 Ricardo Gouveia (Por) 72 70 69, Matt Wallace 71 68 72, Mike Lorenzo-Vera (Fra) 71 71 69, Lasse Jensen (Den) 70 71 70, Byeong-Hun An (Kor) 71 70 70, Matteo Manassero (Ita) 70 71 70, Joakim Lagergren (Swe) 69 73 69, Matt Kuchar (USA) 72 70 69, Carlos Pigem (Spa) 68 71 72, Darren Fichardt (Rsa) 73 67 71, Shubhankar Sharma (Ind) 71 70 70, Robert Karlsson (Swe) 71 70 70, Thomas Bjorn (Den) 73 69 69, Jordan Smith 72 70 69, Gregory Havret (Fra) 70 71 70

212 Adrian Otaegui (Spa) 70 69 73, Hideto Tanihara (Jpn) 66 72 74, Scott Vincent (Zim) 69 70 73

213 Haydn Porteous (Rsa) 72 70 71, Thorbjorn Olesen (Den) 69 73 71, Alejandro Canizares (Spa) 71 71 71, Gregory Bourdy (Fra) 71 70 72, Alvaro Quiros (Spa) 70 72 71, Jacques Kruyswijk (Rsa) 75 67 71

214 Lucas Bjerregaard (Den) 72 69 73, Soren Kjeldsen (Den) 72 70 72

215 Gary Stal (Fra) 72 69 74, Rafael Cabrera-Bello (Spa) 72 70 73

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