Dubai: Donald closes in as McIlroy stumbles
Luke Donald is poised to complete the best year of his golfing life in real style tomorrow.
A third round 66 at the Dubai World Championship, coupled with a disappointing display from Rory McIlroy, means the world number one is within touching distance of an unprecedented double.
"It's over - definitely," McIlroy said after a 71 dropped him from third to eighth in an event he has to win just to have a chance.
"And Luke deserves it."
Nobody has ever topped the money lists on both sides of the Atlantic in the same season, but after taking the PGA Tour title in October by winning their final event there is even a chance for him to do the same on the European circuit.
If he does, it would be worth £1.7million to the 34-year-old English star, made up of the tournament first prize of £793,298 and an Order of Merit bonus of £951.957.
Needing "only" a top nine finish to clinch the "Race to Dubai", as it is called, Donald burst from joint 12th place at halfway to fourth spot on 10 under par.
If McIlroy, who has been battling possible Dengue fever, fails to win tomorrow the race is all over regardless of where Donald finishes.
Spaniard Alvaro Quiros still leads, but a bogey six on the last for a 70 and 14 under total means Europe's biggest hitter, for the fourth time in five seasons, is only two ahead of Scot Paul Lawrie, who eagled the same hole.
South African Louis Oosthuizen, like Lawrie a former Open champion, is third a stroke further back after also handing in a 66.
Donald described his six-birdie, no bogey display as "the perfect round for me - exactly what I wanted."
He had started his first two rounds with a bogey, but this time it was with a 14-foot birdie putt and he added more on the second, fifth and eighth to turn in 32.
With no sight of McIlroy on the leaderboards by then, Donald picked up further shots at the 15th and 16th.
He is not taking anything for granted yet, though.
"You can't in this game. I would be foolish to think it's over," he said.
"Tomorrow it will be just like any other day in terms of my focus.
"It will be on trying to catch whoever is the leader and trying to win the tournament. I'm not going to count on anything.
"But if it all works out tomorrow night will be fun - it would be a pretty amazing feat. It's history."
McIlroy's girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki, the tennis world number one, turned up to watch on the back nine and saw the 22-year-old come home in a four under 32 with birdies at the 11th, 12th, 16th and 18th.
But the damage came earlier. He drove into sand on the third, then ran up a double bogey seven at the long seventh after hooking into an unplayable lie in a bush with a five-wood second and then leaving his chip short of the green.
Because of his health he is expected to pull out of next week's event in Thailand and head home to try to regain full fitness as quickly as he can.
"I'm tired. I'm very tired," he said.
"But I don't want to say that's the cause of playing the way I did on the front nine because I came back.
"I'm not 100%, but that should not stop me. I was trying to stay patient and hit good shots, but I just couldn't do it.
"Luke has played well all year and I expect him to have another solid round. I don't think he's been given enough credit for the golf he's played, but from within the golfing family I am sure he will receive a lot of plaudits."
Quiros eagled the seventh from eight feet and had four birdies, but there were also four bogeys on his card.
His closest overnight challenger, Swede Peter Hanson, managed only a 71 and Lawrie seized the chance to be in the final group on the final day of the final event when he played the last six holes in five under.
The closing eagle followed birdies on the 13th, 14th and 16th.