Rory McIlroy heads into Monday’s final round in a strong position to win a third Hero Dubai Desert Classic title after firing a sensational third round 65 to open up a three-shot lead.
The world No 1 began the day two shots behind the halfway co-leaders but opened his third round with four successive birdies to hit the front at the Emirates Golf Club.
Related: Three-way tie for lead in Dubai; Shubhankar misses cut
The 2009 and 2015 champion was caught at the summit after making eight straight pars from the fifth, but bounced back with a hat-trick of birdies at the 13th, 14th and 15th before another gain on the 17th handed him a huge lead.
But after hitting his approach at the 18th into the water, he finished with his only bogey of the day to go into the clubhouse on 15 under par, three clear of Englishmen Dan Bradbury and Callum Shinkwin.
Reigning Joburg Open champion Bradbury, playing alongside McIlroy on Sunday, made five birdies and one bogey in his 68, while two-time DP World Tour winner Shinkwin shot five birdies on the back nine in his 67.
Last week’s winner Victor Perez was among the seven-strong group another shot back on 11 under after his bogey-free 66.
McIlroy started brightly on Sunday, sending his approach from the rough at the first to four feet before rolling in the putt for an opening birdie.
View this post on Instagram
He then joined the overnight co-leaders on ten under after holing his six-foot birdie putt at the second.
The Northern Irishman made it three in a row from close range on the par-five third, having pitched to around two feet from a tricky spot behind the bunker.
A sensational tee-shot at the short fourth left McIlroy with a five-foot birdie putt, and after taking a tour of the cup, his ball dropped below ground to hand him a fourth straight gain.
His birdie run came to an end at the fifth but he kept the momentum going with a good par save before two-putting from 25 feet for another par on the sixth.
McIlroy was in danger of dropping a shot at the eighth but holed a clutch par putt from some 15 feet to keep his card clean.
After closing the front nine with a par, McIlroy was overtaken at the top as Adri Arnaus birdied the eighth to reach 13 under.
And McIlroy was dealt another blow as his tee-shot at the tenth landed in a bush, a little bit off the ground.
But he recovered admirably and managed to make his par there, and with Arnaus dropping a shot at the ninth, McIlroy found himself in a share of the lead once again.
View this post on Instagram
The four-time Major champion missed the green at the short 11th and faced a tricky up-and-down for par, but he made it, draining a 14-foot putt to avoid any damage.
He found the 12th green in two but needed two putts to get down from nearly 50 feet as an eighth straight par went on the card.
McIlroy finally broke that run with a close-range birdie at the long 13th before making it two in a row from around seven feet at the 14th to reach 14 under.
He went straight at the pin with his tee-shot at the short 15th and knocked in the putt from six feet for a hat-trick of birdies, delighting the huge crowds following him and moving four shots clear at the summit.
After safely parring the 16th, McIlroy launched his tee-shot at the par-four 17th past the flag to around 30 feet before making a birdie.
Having not dropped a shot all day, McIlroy found the water at the 18th to surrender a bogey there but has a three-shot cushion with 18 holes left to play.
Speaking about the prospect of winning on his first start of the year, McIlroy said: “It would be great. I love this golf course. I love this tournament. I’ve won here a couple of times.
“This is my first start of the year. I don’t think I’ve ever won in my first start of the year – I had plenty of chances at Abu Dhabi down the road over the years, and never quite got it done.
“So tomorrow is a nice opportunity to try to do something that I’ve never done before.”
On his third round, McIlroy added: “Felt like the good golf came in two bursts today, and then the rest of it, it was okay. I held it together. I still don’t feel quite in control of my game. But today was much better than yesterday, so that was a positive.”