Rory McIlroy leads the Dubai Desert Classic into the weather-delayed final round by three shots despite dumping his second into the water guarding the 18th green on Sunday.
After the bogey on his last hole, the world No 1 signed for a third-round seven-under-par 65.
That helped McIlroy move to 15 under ahead of Monday’s conclusion – three clear of English duo Callum Shinkwin (67) and Dan Bradbury (68) tied for second at 12 under.
For McIlroy it was a sense of deja vu as last year he found the same water on the 18th to eventually lose the Desert Classic title to Viktor Hovland.
“I’m always going to hit good enough shots to make birdies and hole some putts but keeping the mistakes off your card is the secret for me,” said McIlroy, a two-time winner of the tournament.
He added: “I made one bogey out there today, which I’m pretty frustrated about. You know, the other 17 holes were very good.
“Overall, it was much better today. I need to go out and do the same tomorrow.”
The four-time Major champion was excited about securing a win in his first start of the season for the first time in his career.
“I have a nice opportunity to start the year with a win, and try to build off of that.”
The 23-year-old Bradbury is living a dream, having secured his DP World Tour membership after winning the Joburg Open in November while playing on an invitation.
The man from Wakefield was paired with McIlroy on Sunday, and said: “You hear so many ‘Rory’s and then you just hear a random ‘Dan’ in the middle of it, you can’t help but smile. But it’s nice to know that there are people out there wishing me well.”
Last week’s Abu Dhabi champion Victor Perez (66) was among a large group tied for fourth place at 11-under par. That included five LIV Golf players – Patrick Reed (69), Ian Poulter (69), South African Shaun Norris (67), Adri Arnaus (70) and Richard Bland (71).
McIlroy started the day at eight under par after an indifferent second round of 70, but four birdies in the first four holes lifted him to a share of the lead.
He then made eight straight pars, before another stretch of four birdies in five holes. The finale was a disappointing bogey.
McIlroy is guaranteed to retain his No 1 position after Spain’s Jon Rahm came up short in the final round of the Farmers Insurance Open on the PGA Tour.
The world No 3 needed a third place or better to have a chance of dislodging the Northern Irishman.
McIlroy commented: “I’ve sort of sat at home watching Jon Rahm tear it up for the last sort of six weeks, and I felt like coming here, no matter what happened last night in San Diego, I want to try to come and play like the best player in the world.”
Organisers were forced into staging the fourth round on Monday after a deluge caused havoc at the start of the tournament.
© Agence France-Presse