On a day of incredible scoring at the Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Paul Dunne and Rory McIlroy put themselves within striking distance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship presented by EGA.
Ross Fisher and Thomas Pieters forced their way into a share of the lead of the – one shot clear of Rory McIlroy heading into the final round.
Respective scores of 65 and 67 took Fisher and Pieters to 17 under par, while McIlroy carded his own 65 to move into third place in his first competitive tournament in over 100 days after a well-publicised break from the game.
Paul Dunne cannot be discounted either having posted a similar 65 of eight birdies and one bogey to be sharing ninth place at 13-under par and only four shots off the lead.
Dunne has only posted one bogey over his three rounds and that coming at the sixth hole on day two.
“The scoring has been good and that is because the last two days, there was no wind, or next to no wind, maybe five miles an hour or something,” Dunne said.
“The greens are rolling well, and if you get no wind and good greens, the scoring is always going to be good for people who are playing well. I think tomorrow, more wind in the forecast and I expect the scoring to be more moderate. But yeah, it seems like a birdie-fest, especially playing with Matt. He was 8-under through ten. I was 4-under through ten and I felt like I was 2-over. It was a good group.”
And now as a European Tour winner Dunne has all the confidence in the world of reeling in both Pieters and Fisher as well as denying McIlroy for a second time in his short pro career.
“Yeah, maybe I am a bit more confident going into the final round, because I’ve done it before, I know I can do it,” he said.
“Before you win your first one, you kind of hope you can do it and you think you can, but if you haven’t done it, you’re not 100 per cent sure. I know I can hit shots when I need to. It’s just that hopefully it’s my week.”
McIlroy may not be fully match-fit having had so much time away from competing at the highest level, but the sharpness of his ball-striking and the efficiency of his overall game will certainly have caught the attention of anyone who has followed the Northern Irishman’s career.
Defending champion Tommy Fleetwood has a fantastic opportunity to emulate Martin Kaymer and record back-to-back Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship victories after the Englishman posted a third round 67 to move to 15 under alongside countryman Matt Fitzpatrick heading into the final day.
Fitzpatrick produced a quite stunning third round performance, birdieing seven of his first nine holes to get to the turn in 29. Another two birdies – on the tenth and 11th holes – had the 23 year old thinking he could shoot the European Tour’s first 59, but in the end he settled for the lowest round of the week so far, a nine under 63 which saw him join Fleetwood on 15 under.
While McIlroy is reaping the benefits of his enforced period of rest, Pieters, Fisher, Fleetwood and Fitzpatrick are certainly benefiting from starting their seasons’ early at last week’s EurAsia Cup.
“It would mean a lot to win.” Said McIlroy. “I’ve had a lot of close calls here, I think about six top threes or something like that. I’ve never won on my first start back out. I was close last year in South Africa, but Stormy beat me in a playoff. So it would mean a lot. It’s felt like a while since I’ve won. 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’m excited to get back on the horse and give myself another chance tomorrow.”
“I said all week, I felt like this is where my game was in practice, but it’s always different trying to go from the range on to the golf course, and even in practice rounds. I felt like I was playing well but it’s still different whenever you get a card in your hand and you’re in competitive play.”