Shane Lowry and Rory McIlroy failed take full advantage of a good play and need a miracle now to catch Victor Dubuisson in the DP World Tour Championship, Dubai.
Lowry made four birdies in five holes on the front nine and turned in three under but he three putted the 14th and failed to birdie the last and ended up signing for a three under 69 that leaves him seven adrift of Dubuisson on six under par.
“I think I should have been one or two better, maybe even more, but I think I am too far behind going into tomorrow,” Lowry told Meridian Media’s Denis Kirwan. “I felt if I could get to eight under I would be in with a chance. It might be too far behind but it was still very solid golf.
Another day like that and I will be very happy going down to Melbourne [for the World Cup]. G-Mac is obviously playing very well. I will go out and try to keep doing what I am doing and bring it on to next week.”
An impressive burst of scoring on his back nine - including a birdie at the last - saw Dubuisson card a 67 and move to 13 under, one stroke clear of nearest challengers Nicolas Colsaerts, Tyrrell Hatton and Matthew Fitzpatrick at Earth Course at Jumeirah Golf Estates.
Rafa Cabrera Bello, whose third round 63 was the lowest score of the week so far, is another shot back on 11 under alongside Lee Westwood and Francesco Molinari.
Swede Henrik Stenson, who tops the Race to Dubai rankings presented by Rolex, recovered from dropping three shots in his opening ten holes to sign for a 70 and move to five under.
It was a significant move for Stenson who now looks likely to be crowned Europe’s Number One for the second time in his career on Sunday afternoon after his nearest challenger – Master Champion Danny Willett – carded five bogeys and a single birdie in his 76 to fall to one over par.
Alex Noren, currently third in the Race to Dubai, posted a three-under 69 to move to seven under, but the Swede needs to finish in the top two to have any chance of overtaking his countryman at the summit of the Rankings.
Padraig Harrington was four under after seven hioles but double bogeyed the eighth and then played the back nine in one over with sandwiching birdies at the 13th and 15th between bogeys at the 11th, 16th and 18th for a 71 that leaves him tied 39th on two under.
As for McIlroy, he’s eight adrift and tied 22nd after a 68 that could have been a few better, especially at the par-five 18th, where he had only an iron for his approach but found water and made bogey.
“Just said there, I think I turned a 62 into a 68 somehow,” McIlroy said after his chance of winning the event and returning to world No 1 evaporated in the desert.
“It one of those days. I hit a lot of good shots and didn't really hole many putts and sort of was the story of the day with what happened on 18.
“Yeah, it could have been a lot better than it was and I could have got myself back into it but it wasn’t meant to be.”
On his bogey to finish, he added: "Great drive. Second shot, had 207 into the pin into the wind. Maybe just was a little too aggressive with it and pulled it slightly.
"Anything left of that pin is going to go in the water, unless you hit it way past the pin. Yeah, just got punished for a bad shot.
“I played much better than the score suggested. I gave myself so many chances out there, and I had a look at birdie most holes and couldn't really take advantage of it and posted a low score but just wasn't meant to be. So, yeah, one of those things, a 68, but it was quite a disappointing one of those in the end.
"After I birdied 10, I knew I had a few chances coming up. I had a chance on 11, a chance on 13. Didn't birdie the par 5, 14. I had a lob-wedge in my hand on 16 and then had a 4-iron into the last, so it could have been -- and I missed a bunch of chances on the front nine.
“Yeah, it could have been much better than it was, and just have to go out tomorrow and shoot a good one and try to end the season on a positive note.
"I want to go out and play well tomorrow. You know, try and post a good score and feel good about myself going into the next couple of months before I tee it up again.
As for the “interview” with the nine-year old child star “Billy”, McIlroy feels it shown he can still laugh at himself despite his love of celebrity and the efforts to push his ‘brand”.
"It was good, though. It was a lot of fun,” he said. [A European Tour press officer] 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.”
"Yeah, 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 (laughing).
"I had said, it's fine, I'll take it well and I don't mind laughing at myself. And it was going nicely at the start, whenever the couple of hairstyles, that wasn’t too bad.
"And get on to some other stuff, and I was like, oh, Christ. (Laughter). It was good fun. I stayed -- we were supposed to do it in half an hour and we were there for an hour and a bit. It was all good fun. I had a great time. It's great to do things like that. It’s nice to be able to show people I can still laugh at myself.
“It's a great score. It's my best score to date on this course. I've played well, made the good putts at the right time. I'm happy to be able to putt it in the hole.
“The eagle on the fifth, sometimes it goes in. It's a big bonus, but you know on the next hole you've got to focus again, and I was quite excited. It's just a course I like. It's long. You have to carry the ball long. It's target golf. The long game is very important. I just like the way it sets up.”
“A grandstand finish on the last is always nice, but it's the same scenario again: I go from shooting myself in the foot with a couple of three-putts, missing short ones again, and then I play a game that's probably nine out of ten, all the parts of the game.
“So it can be very frustrating, when you get into this position in those big tournaments, it's kind of maybe a little easier to keep digging in and not really let it away from you.”
“The last group is where everyone wants to be on Sunday to give yourself a chance of winning, and for me just to keep putting myself in these positions, it's a great experience. I'll be one behind going into the final round, but hopefully a 66 tomorrow could be all right.”
“I think it's just one of those days. I feel really comfortable on this golf course and hopefully I get off to a slightly better start, or a more consistent start tomorrow, and throw in a few birdies. I'm in a good position going into the final round. It’ a great score today. I do look at the leaderboard a lot to know where I'm at, and tomorrow won't be any different. So hopefully I can play well and climb another spot.”
“I've just got to go out and try to play a solid round tomorrow. I know if Alex finishes second on his own, I've got to be inside the top eight, so that's kind of the scenario that I'm trying to achieve. Obviously it's a long way for me to be second on my own in case he were to win. I've just got to keep at it and try and play a good round tomorrow, finish off the week, and we can start counting afterwards.”
Round three scores:
203 V Dubuisson (Fra) 70 69 64,
204 T Hatton (Eng) 71 66 67, N Colsaerts (Bel) 67 71 66, M Fitzpatrick (Eng) 69 69 66,
205 R Cabrera Bello (Esp) 71 71 63, F Molinari (Ita) 68 67 70, L Westwood (Eng) 66 70 69,
207 B Wiesberger (Aut) 70 67 70, S Kjeldsen (Den) 70 69 68, N Elvira (Esp) 70 69 68, C Schwartzel (RSA) 70 67 70,
208 T Fleetwood (Eng) 70 71 67,
209 S Garcia (Esp) 68 67 74, B An (Kor) 70 69 70, R Karlberg (Swe) 72 70 67, A Noren (Swe) 71 69 69, T Olesen (Den) 71 70 68,
210 Shane Lowry (Irl) 70 71 69, D Horsey (Eng) 72 71 67, J Luiten (Ned) 68 69 73, R Fisher (Eng) 72 71 67,
211 J Quesne (Fra) 67 76 68, Rory McIlroy (Nir) 75 68 68, J Campillo (Esp) 72 71 68, R Sterne (RSA) 70 70 71, B Grace (RSA) 72 74 65, H Stenson (Swe) 72 69 70,
212 A Sullivan (Eng) 76 66 70, R Gouveia (Por) 72 69 71, J Wang (Kor) 75 72 65, M Kaymer (Ger) 71 74 67,
213 L Haotong (Chn) 74 70 69, P Larrazábal (Esp) 71 71 71, A Levy (Fra) 69 73 71, G Coetzee (RSA) 72 70 71, G Bourdy (Fra) 72 73 68, J Van Zyl (RSA) 69 71 73, R Paratore (Ita) 70 73 70,
214 Pádraig Harrington (Irl) 72 71 71, S Hend (Aus) 72 73 69, T Pieters (Bel) 72 72 70, T Jaidee (Tha) 74 70 70, F Aguilar (Chi) 74 73 67,
215 R Jacquelin (Fra) 72 71 72, D Lipsky (USA) 72 71 72, J Lagergren (Swe) 74 69 72, A Cañizares (Esp) 73 72 70,
216 K Aphibarnrat (Tha) 69 74 73, M Ilonen (Fin) 70 73 73, M Southgate (Eng) 72 74 70,
217 L Oosthuizen (RSA) 69 74 74, D Willett (Eng) 71 70 76, R Bland (Eng) 71 76 70,
218 C Wood (Eng) 75 72 71,
219 B Dredge (Wal) 72 75 72,
220 S Lee (Kor) 71 73 76, R Wattel (Fra) 82 68 70,
221 M Fraser (Aus) 69 74 78, B Stone (RSA) 74 73 74,
226 A Johnston (Eng) 78 70 78