Rampant Rory claws back ten shot deficit to set up Sunday showdown

Ronan MacNamara
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Rory McIlroy (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

Ronan MacNamara

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A stunning closing eagle saw Rory McIlroy card a blistering, bogey-free 63 and end his third round as the clubhouse leader having started the day ten shots off the halfway lead at the Hero Dubai Desert Classic.

McIlroy held a sloping left to right breaker from just off the back fringe to eagle the par-5 18th to leap into a share of the lead with Cameron Young, who at the time of writing, dropped his third shot in two holes to leave McIlroy in front on his own at twelve-under-par.

The Holywood clubman looked down and out after two frustrating days left him ten shots off the pace on three-under but a fantastic moving day has dragged him into the thick of contention for a fourth Dubai Desert Classic crown and the most unlikely of title defences.

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“I had putter in my hand but I saw there was a lot of fringe to go through and I said to Harry that I wanted to chip it but the lie wasn’t great so I was riding my luck with the putter and as soon as it got on the green it wasn’t as fast as I thought it would be and it tracked perfectly and it was a huge bonus for something like that to go in.

“I played some very good golf, definitely better than the last couple of days so it’s nice to get myself back into the tournament.”

McIlroy had played the front nine in a combined three-over-par through the first two rounds including a four-over stretch from the difficult fifth to ninth hole run. In classic McIlroy fashion however, it was in this period where he did most of his damage in round three.

He started well with two birdies in his first three holes, but it was four successive birdies from the seventh, to move to within four of Young, which raised eyebrows that perhaps he wasn’t out of the trophy discussion yet. A birdie at the par-5 13th kept the pressure on and although there were some questionable swings coming in on the closing stretch, he held things together with a run of pars before his grandstand finish eagle.

“I thought if I could play the front nine better I got off to a good start, then I thought if I could pick one or two up from 5 to 9 I ended up picking three up which was fantastic and I kept it going into the back nine. The key on this golf course is the front nine, if you can play it well, you can give yourself a ton of momentum going into the back nine.”

McIlroy’s first professional win came at the 2009 Dubai Desert Classic aged just 19, before he made it two tournament wins in 2015.

He famously held off Patrick Reed last year after ‘tee gate’ to make it a hat trick of Dubai Desert Classic titles, but he admits it would be amazing to become the only player to win the tournament four times.

“It would be amazing, the first player to get my name on it four times would be awesome. I have had so much success in Dubai whether it be with this tournament, over at Jumeirah Golf Estates, Race to Dubai’s, it’s been a really good place for me and I love coming back and I love my time here and it would be amazing to get the win.

“I think anything within five, I don’t think I will be five behind unless someone does something special on the back nine, but anything within three, four, five I will be in with a good chance.”

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