Graeme McDowell knows he needs "a low one" on Sunday to win the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, but with Sergio Garcia making birdie at his last two holes in near darkness to lead him by eight strokes, the Portrush man is pleased with his game overall.
A four-under par 68 he felt could have been a lot better leaves McDowell tied for 11th on eight under par at the Emirates Golf Club where Garcia also shot 68 to lead Open champion Henrik Stenson by three strokes on 16-under par.
"I kind of did the hard part and played the front nine well," McDowell said after going out in 31. "I feel like the back nine here at the Emirates is there for the taking with three par 5s, and playing the front four-under, and only shooting level par on the back was a little disappointing."
Having made four birdies in his first seven holes, he admitted he "sputtered home" by making two birdies and two bogeys on the back nine.
But he is still pleased that his game is trending in the right direction early in the year as he bids to return to golf's top table.
The 2010 Open champion did not win in 2016 season, missing 13 of 28 cuts to miss out of Ryder Cup selection for the first time since 2006, when he also missed 13 cuts.
"I'm going to need a low one obviously, but it is out there," McDowell said. "Obviously with the type of front nine I shot today, and if you can get it going on the par fives in the back, it's there for the taking.
"I'm taking a lot of positives away from these first couple weeks back, seeing some good stuff, and I'm very, very happy. I can't be too disappointed. So I am looking forward to getting out there tomorrow.
"I've driven the ball much better this week. That was a big key last week in Qatar. The driver just was not behaving itself and this week I've really put the ball in play off the tee, and my iron play has felt really nice and felt good around the greens, as well.
"There's been a couple of shots here or there every day away from really, really competing this week.
"Obviously, I'm in a decent position going into tomorrow. I'm going to need a low one to win but we'll go out there and see what we can do."
As Paul Dunne was forced to grind for a level par 72 and a share of 54th on one over par, Garcia opened up a three-stroke lead over Stenson in near darkness at the end of day three.
Garcia was amongst 21 groups of players who had to complete round two this morning after high winds halted play on Friday, and he was determined to finish his round after a 1.50 pm start at the Emirates Golf Club.
With a two-tee start in operation, just one group failed to finish and will return to complete round three on Sunday morning.
The overnight leader bogeyed the first but immediately followed up with a birdie. An impressive back nine, including five birdies and just one dropped shot, completed a round of four under.
Sweden's Stenson gradually moved up the leaderboard throughout the day, signing for a round of 67 to finish the day in second place.
It was the same score for Ian Poulter who sits in tied third place at 11 under par alongside Prom Meesawat, while Peter Uihlein and George Coetzee are one shot further back.
“It was a nice round. Obviously, it wasn't easy, a little shaky here and there at the beginning. But back nine was great. A lot of good shots, a lot of good putts. You know, overall, I'm happy with my round. I have a chance of winning the OMEGA Dubai Desert Classic, which is a great tournament, a great event. I'm going to give it my all tomorrow.
“At the end it was very, very dark, I'll tell you that. I didn't think -- when we were walking on 17, I thought, well, it will probably be a little dark but not too bad. But then it gets dark very, very quickly here. Couldn't really see much on the last three shots. Pretty much couldn't see the ball land and the last putt was a little bit of a feel and a little bit of the read that George gave me, and I'm very fortunate to be able to make it.”
“I'm pleased with that. It was a good back nine. Happy to get the round finished. We had to rush a little bit here to get on 18 and hit it on the green in two, which is nice. Then we just tried to get that down in two. It's hard with the pace in the dark and hit it about four and a half feet by, so I had a little tester coming back. But a nice putt and closed out the day nicely.
“It’s great to be in the last match tomorrow. I’m three behind Sergio so that’s where I want to be to try and apply some pressure on the front nine. Anytime you can be within a couple shots heading into the back nine, you can make it happen. I'm very pleased with the day's work.”
“I made a couple great par saves during the round and gave myself a lot of good chances. I needed to shoot a decent round today because obviously Sergio and the guys in front were a few shots clear. I've done my job today, so I'm very pleased.
“My putting's really good. I had a stretch of single putts from the back end of round two to the first couple of holes today. I was nine one-putts in a row, so to do that, you have to be comfortable with your line doing that. I'm quietly confident. I wouldn't say I feel like I'm on my A Game, but I'm doing my job, and that's all I can do right now is slowly but surely try to get into contention and see what happens tomorrow.”