Even when he’s bad he’s good, though Saturday, Rory McIlroy was as almost good as ever as he shot a best-of-the-day seven under par 65 in the third round of the DP World Tour Championship, Dubai to put himself on the brink of a glorious double on Sunday.
It’s the last day of a season that McIlroy would rather forget for its lack of majors and the way he was overshadowed by the imperious rise Jordan Spieth, who won the Masters and the US Open under his nose, almost won The Open when he was injured and then came close again to another major win in the US PGA.
He can only get closer to world No 1 Spieth and world No 2 Jason Day, the eventual winner of the PGA, if he wins his third Race to Dubai title in four years today.
Doing it by playing just 12 events is almost an insult to the opposition and a statement of just how far he towers above everyone in world golf bar, arguably, Spieth and Day.
At his very best, nobody can touch McIlroy as he showed when impressively going through the gears in round three at the Earth Course.
The 26-year old Co Down man, who has a slender lead over his former Walker Cup team mate Danny Willett at the top of the Race to Dubai, produced a ball-striking masterclass with eight birdies and a bogey taking him to 15 under par, one stroke behind leader Andy Sullivan.
Had his putter been any way hot, he’d have shot 62 or possibly lower, which is the story of his career.
Sullivan held on to the lead with a 12-foot par putt at the last for a 68, and will go after his fourth title of the season, after victories in South Africa (twice) and Portugal.
McIlroy has never had a lower score on the Earth Course, where three years ago he did the double in spectacular fashion, and it sent an ominous warning to Danny Willet, realistically the only man who can still pip the 26 year old to the European Number One crown, having kept his chances alive with a five under par 67 to be four strokes behind.
In-form American Patrick Reed is three shots back in third place, while BMW PGA Champion Byeong Hun An is joint fourth on 12 under alongside Argentine Emiliano Grillo.
As for Shane Lowry, who has had a tough time on the greens lately, the Co Offaly man had 32 putts but missed just two greens in regulation and dropped just one shot in a 69 to move up to tied 43rd on two under.
“I felt pretty calm out there. I got a little bit frustrated through the middle part of the round. I was not quite on point today and I felt like the putter really saved me on the last few holes. But 68, with the way I played, I’m quite happy with that. I'm playing well and putting really well, so it’s just about trying to give myself as many chances as possible. I know Rory is going to have a good run at it tomorrow. Playing with Rory on the last day of the DP World Tour Championship is going to be amazing.”
“I guess you can’t really walk off this golf course, especially in these conditions, having shot seven under and not feel good about yourself. But at the same time, I feel like it could have been a lot better. The good thing is that there’s still one round of golf left. If it had of been the final day, I’d be kicking myself with some of the chances I missed. I’m playing lovely, so it bodes well for tomorrow. If I can just keep this up and apply a bit of pressure early on, then hopefully I’ll keep it going. I’m exactly where I want to be, in contention going into Sunday, so it’s all good. It’s my last round of the year tomorrow, the last round of the season, and I want to make the most of it.”
“I hit my tee shots pretty solid today but the iron shots were okay, a little loose, and I felt like I missed a lot of putts out there. It was kind of one of those days when I didn’t see them as well as before. The ball just didn’t seem to want to go in the hole. Any time you’re in the top two or three groups going into the last day, you’re in great position. Hopefully I can go out, shoot a low number and have them chase me.”
“I started very similar to yesterday really, pretty stale on the front nine. Then I missed a couple on the back nine, but finished really strong to put us right back in there somewhere near. I don't think you’re going to see Rory come backwards. I think we need to get somewhere near 17 under tomorrow to have a chance. I was hitting a lot of good golf shots and not getting much out of them, but I kept digging in. I was looking at the leaderboard and seeing that people were shooting low scores, which actually helped give us a little bit of a kick up the rear.”
Round 3 scores
200 A Sullivan (Eng) 66 66 68,
201 R McIlroy (Nir) 68 68 65,
203 P Reed (USA) 70 65 68,
204 E Grillo (Arg) 69 64 71, B An (Kor) 70 68 66,
205 D Willett (Eng) 68 70 67, T Jaidee (Tha) 69 67 69, M Fitzpatrick (Eng) 68 69 68,
206 B Grace (RSA) 68 69 69, C Schwartzel (RSA) 71 65 70,
207 F Molinari (Ita) 67 71 69, C Wood (Eng) 68 70 69,
208 A Noren (Swe) 71 66 71, M Kaymer (Ger) 66 71 71, S Kjeldsen (Den) 71 70 67, V Dubuisson (Fra) 72 67 69,
209 A Cañizares (Esp) 68 71 70, P Uihlein (USA) 71 69 69, L Donald (Eng) 69 72 68, J Luiten (Ned) 69 72 68, R Ramsay (Sco) 71 70 68, G Stal (Fra) 71 70 68, B Wiesberger (Aut) 72 65 72,
210 G Bourdy (Fra) 73 68 69, M Warren (Sco) 72 68 70, K Broberg (Swe) 70 73 67, T Hatton (Eng) 69 69 72,
211 K Aphibarnrat (Tha) 73 65 73, L Oosthuizen (RSA) 73 68 70, L Bjerregaard (Den) 69 71 71, J Quesne (Fra) 73 71 67, A Wall (Eng) 71 70 70, I Poulter (Eng) 66 74 71, T Pieters (Bel) 69 69 73,
212 J Donaldson (Wal) 70 71 71, A Lahiri (Ind) 73 67 72, M Fraser (Aus) 66 72 74, J Van Zyl (RSA) 72 70 70, T Olesen (Den) 70 74 68,
213 R Fisher (Eng) 69 73 71, P Larrazábal (Esp) 69 72 72, M Kieffer (Ger) 71 71 71,
214 F Zanotti (Par) 68 73 73, R Karlberg (Swe) 72 72 70, S Lowry (Irl) 75 70 69, M Jiménez (Esp) 68 74 72, S Gallacher (Sco) 73 72 69,
215 L Westwood (Eng) 71 70 74, J Rose (Eng) 71 66 78, R Cabrera-Bello (Esp) 76 70 69, J Morrison (Eng) 71 73 71, L Slattery (Eng) 76 71 68,
216 E Pepperell (Eng) 71 72 73, G Storm (Eng) 73 72 71,
217 D Howell (Eng) 72 76 69,
218 T Fleetwood (Eng) 77 72 69, A Levy (Fra) 74 71 73, H Stenson (Swe) 77 69 72,
219 R Jacquelin (Fra) 76 69 74,
220 S Hend (Aus) 77 69 74,