Irish hopes of victory are all but gone at the DP World Tour Championship at Jumeirah Estates’ Earth Course as Tom McKibbin and Shane Lowry both lost ground and Rory McIlroy now heads the trio.
McIlroy’s seven-under 65 was his 13th sub-66 effort at the host course, and his grandstand birdie-eagle finish were the highlights in his bogey-free round, but he still trails leader Matt Wallace by eight.
There were few signs of the rust that dogged the freshly crowned Race to Dubai champion in rounds one and two, and with little to no hope of a third victory in the season-ending event, a strong finish to his year is the extent of his ambitions ahead of tomorrow’s final round.
“It’s the last round of the year,” he said afterwards. “Go out and try to shoot a good score and get myself a decent finish.
“Yeah, I would say, as well, coming into the week, already having wrapped up The Race to Dubai, I’d say my expectation levels weren’t super high. But still, every day I go out there, I go out there and try to do my absolute best. It was nice to play a little bit more like me today.”
McKibbin and Lowry both started the round at -5, and their finishing totals of -7 and -6 respectively saw them fall further back. McKibbin did get to -2 through seven thanks to a hat-trick of birdies, but could only cover the remaining 11 in level-par, and Lowry was behind the eight ball all day before finishing with a eagle to take him back into red figures for the day.
But Matt Wallace is the man they all have to catch and the Englishman will take a one-shot lead into the final round after birdieing every hole on the back nine on a remarkable day on the course.
The Englishman started the day seven shots off the lead but after turning in 33 on the Earth course, he picked up a shot on every hole from the tenth onwards to sign for a stunning career-best 60.
He was two feet from holing a bunker shot for an eagle and a 59 on the last but had to settle for the lowest round of the season, a 16 under total and a one-shot lead as he looks for a first Rolex Series title.
Wallace’s nine birdies in a row, 12 birdies in a round, nine-hole score of 27 and nine-hole score to par of nine under all match DP World Tour bests but will not go in the record books due to preferred lies being in place.
The 32-year-old – who won a maiden PGA Tour title in March – only made it into the season-ending event courtesy of his finish at last week’s Nedbank Golf Challenge, but now has a chance to claim a fifth DP World Tour title and first since the 2018 Made In Denmark.
“What a day, an amazing day,” a beaming Wallace said afterwards. “Just tried my hardest to get myself back into the tournament. I’m really happy that I’ve been able to do that. Played great.
“At the end, I didn’t even think there was a 59. Honestly, I think it helped me a little bit. I just played nicely coming down the stretch, just keep getting one more if I could and I managed to do that.
“Missed a short one on seven which stopped momentum, I thought, and made one on eight that picked it back up. Holed a good one on ten. 11, played nicely. Then I didn’t really miss a shot coming in.”
Ryder Cup stars Tommy Fleetwood and Viktor Hovland were the closest challengers after continuing to match each other with rounds of 69-66-66.
“It played easier today,” Hovland admitted, “not a lot of wind. Greens were soft. But the greens are very grainy. It’s hard to make putts on some of the pin locations, like 17, for example, that’s a tough one to get close to. I mean, 60 out here (for Wallace), that’s ridiculous.”
Dane Jeff Winther was then at 14 under after a 64, a shot clear of Scot Ewen Ferguson who carded the same score and another Dane in overnight leader Nicolai Højgaard, who signed for 70.