McIlroy one clear as he goes in search of first Abu Dhabi win

Rory McIlroy - Getty Images

Rory McIlroy will take a one shot lead into the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, with a thrilling final day battle ahead as he goes in search of a first Rolex Series victory. The four-time Major winner recorded a five-under par round of 67 at Abu Dhabi Golf Club to get to 13-under and reclaim the lead he relinquished to Ryder Cup team mate Tyrrell Hatton at the conclusion of the second round.

After starting the week with a sparkling 64 to top the leaderboard in the opening event of the 2021 season, the Northern Irishman needed a birdie on Saturday morning to sign for a level par 72 as the delayed second round was completed, and he was three shots off the lead after 36 holes.

But McIlroy roared back to come within touching distance of a first win at an event where he has been runner up four times, carding an eagle , where he holed from some 73 yards off the tenth green with his ball motoring if it didn’t hit the pin, and five birdies to move one shot clear of three-time Rolex Series winner Hatton, with double Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship winner Tommy Fleetwood a shot further back.

“Today was a little better,” McIlroy reflected. “It’s so blustery and it’s a different type of golf than we’re used to playing here in Abu Dhabi where there’s usually not much wind. You feel like you have a chance on every hole. There’s like a little more scrambling involved and longer putts.

“I thought I did well today. Obviously had that big stroke of luck on ten, the ball hitting the pin and going in. Apart from that, I played well. I drove it much better on the back nine and I hit it much better on the back nine, so I was really encouraged with that. I can’t go into tomorrow thinking it’s my turn. I want to make it my turn. I have to go out there and continue to hit the ball like I hit it on the back nine tonight. If I can do that and give myself plenty of chances, I’ll have a real chance.”

As for Fleetwood, who confirmed earlier in the week that he will play at the Irish Open at Mount Juliet in July, the Englishman is just happy to be back in the mix after a disappointing run of results towards the end of last year.

“Just happy to be in contention again,” said Fleetwood who credited his putter for his turnaround in fortune having been three-over par after the opening day. “I think over the course of my career I’ve been a pretty good putter, and I think when it’s a sort of slow, steady progress, which most things are, it’s hard to see the improvements but I think year-on-year in general, as a yearly think, my putting’s progressively gotten better.

“I think it stands out sometimes when I have weeks where I hit it really good and all you see is like the odd putt missing, and you feel like putting has cost you a tournament. But I’ve been doing a lot of great work.

“Worked with Phil for a long time and everything that goes into it. And it’s one of those things, putting has never been a strength for me, and so it requires a lot of work and it’s just been a lot of progress and I’ve worked really hard on, it psychological side, technical side, so it’s nice to hear some compliments about it.”

American David Lipsky and Scot Marc Warren are at ten under par after a pair of 68s, one shot ahead of Spaniard Rafa Cabrera Bello, with Australia’s Jason Scrivener at eight under. Meanwhile, Frenchman Alex Levy holed his tee shot from 163 yards with a nine iron at the par three 15th hole at Abu Dhabi Golf Club to win a BMW M850I Coupe.

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