Rory McIlroy will take a four-shot lead into the final day of the Omega Dubai Desert Classic after shooting a 66 on Saturday – but it looked for a while as if it would be even better for the world number one.
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Following on from his impressive opening two rounds of 66 and 64, McIlroy appeared set for a tilt at the record books on day three as a birdie blitz saw him reach the turn in five under par with the seemingly easier back nine – which included three par fives – to come.
However, the Northern Irishman could not continue his blistering form as some wayward tee shots and indifferent form around the greens saw him have to settle for seven successive pars from the 10th.
McIlroy did pick up another birdie on the par-four 17th, to go with the ones he recorded on the first, third, fifth, seventh and eighth, but he then looked set to immediately cancel that out on the last after finding water with his second shot.
The 25-year-old – who had birdied the 18th hole in 14 of his previous 16 rounds before this one – managed to avoid dropping a shot, though, as he coolly drained a 15-foot putt for par to sign for a round of 66.
That putt ensured McIlroy would start the last round with a four-shot advantage over Dane Morten Orum Madsen, who followed up his 63 on Friday with a blemish-free 66.
Two shots further back in third is Lee Westwood (69) while Andy Sullivan, Stephen Gallacher, Danny Willett and Bernd Wiesberger share fourth place on 13 under after all four shot rounds of 70.
So far, four holes-in- one have been made in the first three days of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship, which, amazingly, is nowhere near to the record of most number of aces in a single event on the European Tour.
That honour belongs to the 1991 Fujitsu Mediterranean Open, which was played in Esterel, France. As many as six were made that week, with Ireland’s Eamonn Darcy (above) making two of them. That’s also the only tournament on European Tour when a player has had two holes-in-one in the same week.
Coincidentally, like the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship, that was also the second event of the year. If we take a closer look at the four aces so far, England’s Tom Lewis had his on the opening day on the par-3 seventh hole, and even though he went on to miss the cut, he won an $88,850 Cadillac Escalade for his 193-yard seven-iron shot.
That’s a bigger payday for Lewis than the money the seventh placed player in the tournament will get for his four-day effort.
Carrying on with the aces, it was fascinating to see the clubs used by players in producing a shot of similar result.
Miguel Angel Jimenez hit a seveniron to 177 yards for his hole-inone on the 15th hole on Thursday. Yesterday, with the tee brought up, Byeong-hun An hit a nine-iron from 147 yards.
Compare that to what Rory McIlroy did for his on Friday. From 177 yards, the world No1 actually used a nine-iron, and he needed to cut down slightly on his swing. It really is ridiculous how long and well some of these players are hitting that ball.
Now that McIlroy has revealed that he writes down his goals for the year on the back of a boarding pass (and that list did not include making a first career hole-in- one in competition), every player is being asked if he has done something similar.
This is what the enigmatic Frenchman Victor Dubuisson had to say when asked the same question: “It’s difficult for me to tell myself what to write. Like, this year, my target is to win two majors. But I haven’t even won one yet, or I haven’t even won a PGA Tour event.
“You know, first I will try to be consistent with my game, my results. Maybe after I have won one or two events, then I can write down that I have to win a few events this year.”
In case you have been wondering why some of the caddies have been wearing black ribbons this week, it is as a mark of respect to legendary caddie Willie Aitchison, who died at the age of 85 earlier this year.
Willie, who started caddying from 1951, won three Open Championships – with Argentinian Roberto de Vicenzo in 1967, and was on Lee Trevino’s bag when he won back-to-back titles in 1971 and 1972. Willie was also the caddie master of the European Tour for nearly two decades, before retiring in 2002.
Reaction after Martin Kaymer claimed a one-stroke lead after Thursday's opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship.