“I can’t go into tomorrow thinking it’s my turn, I want to make it my turn. I have to go out there and continue to hit the ball like I hit it on the back nine today. If I can do that, I’ll have a real chance”
By Keith Jackson
Rory McIlroy is taking nothing for granted as he heads into the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a one-shot lead over Tyrrell Hatton.
McIlroy put himself in pole position to win his first Rolex Series title after a third-round 67 atoned for his erratic play on Friday and took him one clear of overnight leader Hatton, with fellow Ryder Cup team-mate Tommy Fleetwood also in the mix after 54 holes.
One over for his second round when play was suspended due to darkness on Friday evening, McIlroy birdied the 17th on the resumption to salvage a second-round 72 and get back to eight under, while good friend and playing-partner Justin Thomas ran up a seven at the last to miss the cut by one shot.
McIlroy birdied two of the first five holes in his third round as Hatton struggled to find his form of the first two days, and a brilliant – if slightly fortunate – hole-out for eagle from 73 yards at the 10th lifted McIlroy into a two-shot advantage.
He bounced back from a bogey at 13 with some controlled iron-play on 15 and 16, setting up two close-range birdie chances which took him to 13 under for the tournament, a score that proved enough to keep McIlroy in the outright lead when Hatton was unable to birdie the last.
“I can’t go into tomorrow thinking it’s my turn, I want to make it my turn,” said a determined McIlroy, who last lifted silverware at the WGC-HSBC Champions in November 2019.
“I have to go out there and continue to hit the ball like I hit it on the back nine today. If I can do that and give myself plenty of chances, I’ll have a real chance.
“Today was a little better, but it’s hard when it’s so blustery and it’s different type of golf than we are used to playing here in Abu Dhabi, where there’s usually not much wind.
“You feel like you have a chance on every hole. There’s like a little more scrambling involved and some longer putts, but I thought I did well today. And obviously I had that big stroke of luck on 10, the ball hitting the pin and going in. It was going over the green and was going to be left with a tricky up-and-down for par.
“Sometimes that’s what you need in golf tournaments to be in contention and to end up winning is those little strokes of luck every now and again.
“Apart from that, I played well. I drove it much better on the back nine and I hit it much better on the back nine, so I was really encouraged with that.”
Hatton, meanwhile, was left to reflect on a third day of general misfortune, settling for a one-under 71 which at least kept him in outright second place and ensured he would go head to head with McIlroy in the final pairing on Sunday.
“The conditions were really tough for the whole day, although I’m pretty disappointed to be honest,” said Hatton, who led by five overnight. “I feel like coming back in this morning, I didn’t finish off my round too well but I didn’t actually do anything too wrong.
“Then in round three, I just felt like I had nothing really go my way. Hit a couple decent shots and ran into a bunker with a terrible lie and had quite a few putts burning the edge or lipping out. Pretty disappointed.
“But I guess you are always going to have days like that, and you just try and get through it and the good thing is that am still in contention going into the final round. I am obviously one shot back, which is not ideal, but a lot can happen in 18 holes.”