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McIlroy determined to "make it his turn" to win in Abu Dhabi after hole-out eagle helps him take third round lead

 

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Rory McIlroy acknowledges the crowd on the 10th green after holing out for eagle during the third round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship (Warren Little/Getty Images)

Rory McIlroy acknowledges the crowd on the 10th green after holing out for eagle during the third round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship (Warren Little/Getty Images)

Getty Images

Rory McIlroy acknowledges the crowd on the 10th green after holing out for eagle during the third round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship (Warren Little/Getty Images)

Rory McIlroy claims he has to "make it his turn" to win at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship after a brilliant hole-out eagle helped him take a one-shot lead into the final day of the season opener.

The World No.6 drained his approach shot from 73 yards at the par-five 10th on his way to a five-under 67 at Abu Dhabi Golf Club to sit 13-under for the tournament, one shot ahead of Tyrrell Hatton with 18 holes to play.

McIlroy is aiming to win the trophy for the first time after an incredible run of results in the United Arab Emirates, which has seen him finish inside the top-five in eight of his nine previous starts.

He's certainly placed himself superbly to do just that, with his 67 coming at just the right time to keep him just ahead of European Ryder Cup team-mate Hatton, but the Holywood man insists it's not going to be his week just because history suggests he's due a win.

"Today was a little better. It's so blustery, it's different golf than we're used to playing here in Abu Dhabi where there's usually not much wind and you have a chance (of a birdie) on every hole," said McIlroy.

"I thought I did well today. Had that big stroke of luck on 10 where it hit the pin and went in, but apart from that I played well. Drove it much better and hit it much better on the back nine, so I was very encouraged by that.

"But I can't go into tomorrow thinking it's my turn, I have to make it my turn. I have to go out there and continue to hit the ball like I hit it tonight. If I go out and do that then I'll have a really good chance."

McIlroy had started Saturday by finishing his second round - delayed from Friday due to poor visibility - and gained some early momentum by birdieing the 17th for a level-par 72 that had him at eight-under, three off Hatton's lead.

The Englishman, meanwhile, dropped a shot at 17 at the conclusion of his second round to drop back towards the chasing pack at 11-under, with his lead cut to just one by Spain's Rafa Cabrera Bello.

But it was McIlroy who dazzled in tough conditions in the third round, and he made an early march by birdieing the third and fifth holes to join Hatton - who bogeyed the fifth - and Cabrera Bello at the summit to the leaderboard at 10-under.

Although he bogeyed the seventh, the Holywood ace immediately regained the stroke at the eighth before he seared into a lead he wouldn't relinquish with his remarkable shot at the 10th.

Despite leaving himself well short of the green in two at the par-five, McIlroy jammed a wedge out of the thick rough and, although the ball was travelling at some pace after hitting the green, it struck the flag and dropped for the three to pull him one stroke clear.

"It's funny, these greens here, I don't think they've redone the greens since (the course was built), so they have that thatch to them. So the greens are like a sponge here, but that was the first one that took a bounce for me!" laughed McIlroy.

"Lucky it hit the pin, it was going over the green and I was going to be left with a tricky up-and-down for par. But sometimes that's what you need in a golf tournament to be in contention and to end up winning."

 

Hatton was still his closest challenger having birdied the same hole, but his charge had faltered somewhat after a bogey at the seventh undid a birdie at the sixth, while Cabrera Bello had done likewise with a dropped shot at the eighth preceding a birdie at nine.

Instead, the in-form player on the course, besides McIlroy, appeared to be Tommy Fleetwood, another of McIlroy's European Ryder Cup team-mates, who was knocking in birdies aplenty a few groups ahead.

The World No.19 drained a birdie putt on the 18th for his sixth of the day in a five-under 67 of his own to get to 11-under and set the mark in the clubhouse and put the pressure on McIlroy to match him.

But the Northern Irishman flourished, bouncing back from a bogey at the 13th by recording back-to-back birdies at the 15th and 16th to pull ahead to ensure his one-shot advantage over Hatton.

Should he triumph, it would be a first victory for McIlroy since the WGC-HSBC Champions in November 2019, which would be long overdue after a difficult 2020 for the four-time Major champion.

Hatton, the defending Arnold Palmer Invitational and BMW PGA Championship champion, to his credit, did recover well at the tail end of his round by holing a sensational long putt for birdie at the 17th, however a frustrating three-putt par at the 18th saw him sign for a 71 that has him at 12-under.

"It was a difficult day. The conditions were really tough for the whole day. Pretty disappointed to be honest. Coming back in this morning I didn't finish my (second) round that well but I didn't do much wrong," admitted Hatton.

"Round three I just felt I had nothing really go my way. Hit a few decent shots and then quite a few putts lipped out or burned the edge. Pretty disappointed.

"The good thing is I'm still in contention going into the final round, albeit one shot back, which isn't ideal, but a lot can happen in 18 holes, so hopefully things go my way tomorrow."

Fleetwood holds solo third at 11-under, with Marc Warren (Scotland) and David Lipsky (USA) at 10-under, while Cabrera Bello fell away down the stretch to finish at nine-under overall after a 73.

"Just played solid. Was kind of in control for most of the round. Got on that nice run, 10, 11, 12, holed some nice putts. Then you're off and running," said Fleetwood.

"When you're out there you just keep hitting golf shots, hitting putts, doing what you need to do, and then you don't think that much about it - whether you're playing well or not.

"Really good round of golf. Just happy to be back in contention again, really."

European Ryder Cup captain Padraig Harrington, meanwhile, is two-over-par after a three-over 75 in his third round, while Graeme McDowell and Shane Lowry both missed the halfway cut after it was confirmed this morning.

On the PGA Tour Champions, Darren Clarke holds a share of the halfway lead at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai alongside Jerry Kelly in Hawaii.

The pair are at 13-under-par, two shots ahead of overnight leader Retief Goosen, with Clarke aiming to win his second event on the senior tour after claiming November's TimberTech Championship.

Belfast Telegraph


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