March 01, 2021

Abu Dhabi: Rory McIlroy edges into one-shot lead over Tyrrell Hatton after day three

January 23, 2021

Rory McIlroy will take a slender lead over Tyrrell Hatton into the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship as Justin Thomas made a shock exit.

McIlroy gave an excellent response to his difficulties of day two, salvaging a level-par 72 with a birdie at 17 as he completed his second round on Saturday morning, and a third-round 67 lifted him to the top of the leaderboard.

Hatton, Tommy Fleetwood and Rafa Cabrera Bello all held the lead at various stages of an intriguing Saturday at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, but Thomas was catching an early flight back to the United States after he double-bogeyed the final hole of his second round to miss the halfway cut by one shot.

McIlroy was one over for his second round when play was suspended due to darkness on Friday, but he looked sharper on his return early on Saturday morning and a birdie at the penultimate hole got him back to eight under for the tournament.

But his playing partner Thomas failed to extend his participation despite giving himself some breathing room when he matched McIlroy's birdie on 17, finding sand twice heading up the last and needing four shots to find the green before a terrible three-putt signalled the end of a turbulent week for the world No 3.

McIlroy, in contrast, had done enough to earn a place in the final threeball for the third round, and stayed close to the summit with a three-birdie front nine before enjoying a stroke of good fortune at the 10th, where his 73-yard pitch from the rough would have bounded over the green had it not hit the hole and dropped for an unlikely eagle-three.

He bogeyed 13 for the second day running, but pinpoint irons set up birdies at 15 and 16 and, although he was unable to add another at the long last, he had done enough to earn the outright lead heading into Sunday's final round.

Hatton was five clear of the field when play resumed, but he struggled early on and bogeyed 17 to slip to 11 under at the halfway stage, and further errors at the fifth and seventh either side of a birdie at six saw him enter the back nine in a four-way share of the lead with McIlroy, Fleetwood and Cabrera Bello.

The world No 9 birdied 10 and lipped out for another at the 13th before he nailed the putt of the day on the 17th green, holing a huge 40-foot putt for a three only to spurn a great chance to regain a tie for the lead with McIlroy when he misread his short birdie attempt at the last.

Hatton tapped in for a disappointing par and a 71 which takes him into day four in outright second ahead of Fleetwood, who powered into contention with a fine run of four birdies in five holes round the turn.

Fleetwood's prospects of ending the day with the lead took a knock when he bogeyed the 15th, but the two-time Abu Dhabi champion closed with his third birdie of the week at the last to cap a second-straight 67.

"I just played solid," said Fleetwood, winner in 2017 and 2018. "I was in control for most of the round and got on that nice little run on 10, 11 and 12. Holed a couple of long putts and you're off and running.

"I think it stands out sometimes when I have weeks where I hit it really good and all you see is the odd putt missing, and you feel like putting has cost you a tournament. But I've been doing a lot of great work with Phil Kenyon for a long time and everything that goes into it.

"Putting has never been a strength for me, and so it requires a lot of work and it's just been a lot of progress and I've worked really hard on the psychological side and the technical side, so it's nice to hear some compliments about it."

Scotland's Marc Warren birdied three of the last six holes to card a 68 and rise to 10 under along with American David Lipsky, who was also four under for his third round, while Cabrera Bello lost ground on the leader after limping home in 37 to finish on nine under par.

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