Defending champion Rory McIlroy got the fast start he desired in the third round of the DP World Tour Championship, but after doing all the hard work in the opening 10 holes, he failed to capitalize on the back nine of the Earth course at Jumeirah Golf Estates yesterday.
The world No2 moved to within four shots of the lead after four birdies, but missed short chances to add to that number on the 11thand 13th holes, and then failed to make a birdie on the par-4 14th hole.
But worse was yet to come. After a cracking drive on the par-5 18th, he was left with a 207 yard second shot to the green, but he pulled it and found the water hazard, from where he could not get his up-and-down for par.
The bogey left a bad taste in his mouth and McIlroy said after his round of four-under par 68: “I think I turned a 62 in to a 68 somehow, it was just one of those days.
“I hit a lot of good shots but didn’t hole many putts.
“(I hit) a great drive, second shot had 207 (yards) to the pin into the wind. Maybe just was a little too aggressive with it and pulled it slightly and just got punished for a bad shot.
“It could have been a lot better than it was and I could have got back in to it, but it wasn’t meant to be.
“I want to go out and play well tomorrow, try and post a good score and feel good about myself going into the next couple of months before I tee it up again.”
McIlroy also spoke about his interview with the nine-year-old Billy Jenkins, which has gone viral. In the interview, Billy asked him a range of uncomfortable questions, including his take on Tiger Woods, Donald Trump and favourite women’s tennis player.
“It was much tougher than what you guys ask. It was good, though. It was a lot of fun,” said McIlroy.
“Gibbo (European Tour media officer Michael Gibbons) gave me a call the week before and said, ‘How close to the bone can we go?’ And I said, ‘Look, I don’t mind, you can go as close as you want’. I wasn’t quite expecting some of the questions that came up, but it was all in good fun.
“I definitely had to put my thinking hat on a couple of times and try to wiggle out of a couple of them as best I could.
“I had said it was fine. I’ll take it well and I don’t mind laughing at myself. It was all good fun. I had a great time. It’s nice to be able to show people I can still laugh at myself.”
Victor Dubuisson carded an eagle and seven birdies in his 64 to finish 13 under par, a shot ahead of Fitzpatrick, Nicolas Colsaerts and Tyrrell Hatton, with Rafa Cabrera Bello, Lee Westwood and Francesco Molinari another stroke adrift.
On a day of low scoring, Colsaerts – who has not won on the European Tour since 2012 – fired six birdies and two eagles in his 66, but the best round of the day, and week, came from Cabrera Bello.
The world number 30, who was unbeaten on his Ryder Cup debut at Hazeltine, surged through the field with a superb 63 containing 10 birdies and a solitary bogey on the ninth.
Rory McIlroy fared even worse on the last after finding water with his approach, the resulting bogey leaving the defending champion to sign for a second consecutive 68 and eight-shot deficit.
Open champion Henrik Stenson remains on course to win the Race to Dubai after a 70 left him alongside McIlroy on five under, with nearest rival Danny Willett one over after a 76.
Alex Noren, who can deny fellow Swede Stenson the title by finishing in the top two, is in a tie for 13th after carding a 69 in pursuit of an incredible fifth win in 12 events.
Leader Victor Dubuisson carded an eagle and seven birdies in his 64 to finish 13 under par, a shot ahead of Matt Fitzpatrick, Nicolas Colsaerts and Tyrrell Hatton, with Rafa Cabrera Bello, Lee Westwood and Francesco Molinari another stroke adrift.