By Bernie McGuire in Dubai.
Rory McIlroy reckons living in Ernie Els’s former Florida abode is a good enough reason to hope to join Els as a three-time Slync.io Dubai Desert Classic champ.
McIlroy was at his best on day three on an Emirates Club course where he’s won twice before, in eagling the 10th and then snatching an all-important birdie at the last in a score of 69, ending the day in second place at 10-under-par.
South African Justin Harding continues to lead the $8m Rolex Series event adding a third round 71 to his tally to move to 12-under in ideal scoring conditions on the first grassed course in the UAE.
McIlroy had stumbled last week down the road in Abu Dhabi in sharing 12th but that’s not the case this week on the course where he broke through for the first of now 32 worldwide wins. He won again here in 2015 and a triple victory treat would be the second time he would have achieved that after capturing the Wells Fargo Championship for a third time last May.
“I’m excited. There’s a great atmosphere out there today”, said McIlroy. “Hopefully another great atmosphere tomorrow. I mean, I’ve played in a lot of final groups here, so it’s nothing new to me at this point and I’m excited for it.
“It would be nice to get another win, especially here in Dubai. But it’s obviously nice to get a win anywhere early in the season. So, I’ve just got to go out there tomorrow and try to play a good round of golf, and hopefully, it’s good enough”.
McIlroy added: “It would be nice to match Ernie’s three wins. I live in his old house in Florida. It would be nice to do something else sort of intertwined with him (smiling)”.
McIlroy moved into the exclusive Bears Club estate house at Jupiter soon after getting married though it’s understood much work had to be undertaken due to moisture.
Els won the Dubai event by six shots in 1994, again in 2002 and for the third occasion in 2005 while McIlroy’s 2009 Dubai win was his first as a pro and he was successful again in 2015 and should have won in 2018 in ‘gifting’ the trophy to China’s Haotong Li.
McIlroy’s third round tee-time was 11.30am local time but he was headed to the clubhouse at near 8.30 am wearing a t-shirt with the message ‘Range Rat’, with cap back-to-front and carrying the shirt he wore into the competition.
He walked off the 18th some eight hours later and was introduced to legendary Dutch former footballer Ronald Koeman, with the duo enjoying talking golf rather than his role, till last year, as coach at Barcelona.
Padraig Harrington birdied the last in a round of 69 to be well-placed and sharing 11th at seven-under par and the three-time Major winner now tees-up on day four striving to secure his best DP World Tour finish since a sixth in last year’s Dubai event.
“It was a decent round and could have been better”, said Harrington.
“I started well with birdies on two and three, and there were two dropped shots at five and with a three-footer on six that just put me on edge on the greens for the rest of my round.
“It was a nice back nine with the three birdies, and also nice to birdie the last”.
Shane Lowry also broke 70 in posting a 69 to be at three-under and heading to last round in a share of 23rdplace.