Dubai: A wonderful eagle on the 10th from Rory McIlroy allowed him to forget his Day 2 blues and surge back into contention in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship on Saturday in the UAE capital.
The Northern Irishman amazingly holed out from the rough halfway down the fairway to get his name back to the top of a leaderboard that saw Englishman Tyrrell Hatton hold a five-stroke lead when the day’s play began on Saturday.
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The competition was playing catch-up after heavy fog on Friday meant the tee-offs were delayed by three hours. The knock-on affect led to many players — including the leaders — completing their second rounds on Saturday morning. Hatton’s overnight lead was reduced to one shot by Rafa Cabrera Bello with four birdies early on, and Hatton bogeyed the 17th to finish his round on four-under. Cabrera Bello (67) was alone in second place on 10-under. Tied for third were Nacho Elvira (68), Lucas Herbert (68) and four-time major champion Rory McIlroy (72), on eight-under.
But the best was yet to come as the third round got under way.
“I wish I would have shot a few lower but I’m still sort of right in there and obviously a lot of golf left to play,” McIlroy said after he walked off having completed his second round. “Regroup and get ready to go for the third round.”
Regroup he did, and his brilliant eagle was complemented by five birdies to offset two bogeys and reclaim the top spot he held after his opening-round 65.
Hatton suffered an up-an-down day, as that second-round blip was accompanied by bogeys on the fifth and seventh in his third round as all the players were forced into a quick turnaround to get the day’s play back on track. He had a wonderful chance to take over at the top on the 18th as he had an eagle putt, but a loose shot meant he three-putted for par and hand control over to McIlroy, who is chasing his fist-ever win at Abu Dhabi, despite a decade of near-misses.
McIlroy himself had a wobble on the last, but kept his cool to hole out from distance and take a one-stroke lead going into the final day.
They have had fog, wind and a sandstorm, but McIlroy was still smiling. “Today was a little better,” the Northern Irishman said. “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.”
Hatton was more philosophical, but he knows he is still in the hunt. “It was a difficult day,” he admitted. “The conditions were really tough for the whole day. Although I’m pretty disappointed to be honest. I feel like coming back in this morning, I didn’t finish off my round too well and I didn’t actually do anything too wrong. Then for Round 3, I just felt like I had nothing really go my way. Hit a couple decent shots and ran into a bunker with a terrible lie and had quite a few putts burning the edge or lipping out. Pretty disappointed.
“It’s pretty cool group to be a part of tomorrow. I’m sure the standard of golf will be pretty good and hoping that I can play well and give myself a chance to win.”
Scotland’s Marc Warren quietly shifted into contention as his 68 moved him into fourth, alongside American David Lipsky on 10-under par, one behind two-time winner Tommy Fleetwood, who holds third spot on his own. Cabrera Bello had a disappointing third-round 73 to sit sixth on his own on nine-under.
So it is a British 1-2-3 so far, but given the way this tournament has swung, you cannot count out anyone inside the top 10.
-13 Rory McIlroy (NIR) 64 72 67
-12 Tyrrell Hatton (ENG) 65 68 71
-11 Tommy Fleetwood (ENG) 71 67 67
-10 David Lipsky (USA) 72 66 68
Marc Warren (SCO) 72 66 68
-9 Rafa Cabrera Bello (ESP) 67 67 73
-8 Jason Scrivener (AUS) 67 70 71
-7 Christiaan Bezuidenhout (RSA) 71 71 67
George Coetzee (RSA) 70 71 68
Mikko Korhonen (FIN) 69 69 71
Mike Lorenzo-Vera (FRA) 69 72 68
Wade Ormsby (AUS) 69 70 70
Chris Paisley (ENG) 72 68 69
Matt Wallace (ENG) 68 70 71
Fabrizio Zanotti (PAR) 66 71 72