Rory McIlroy endured another topsy-turvy day at the Dubai Desert Classic on Saturday, yet he managed to grind his way to a four-under 68 and move back into contention on eight under.
The Northern Irishman cut a frustrated figure at the Emirates Golf Club in the early stages of his third round, with a double bogey capping off a rather loose opening nine holes.
However, McIlroy surged up the leaderboard in some style on the back nine, with six birdies and no blemishes on the card, as we can see below:
McIlroy began Saturday six shots back of the top of the leaderboard after briefly flirting with missing the cut on Friday, which meant he’d have to create history to win the tournament—as European Tour revealed:
Yet the world No. 1 started well on his mission to do so, firing in an impressive birdie on the par-four second and looking in the zone.
The front nine at the Emirates Golf Club is traditionally difficult to score low on, but McIlroy was really dialled in with his long irons.
However, the flat club wasn’t cooperating quite as much, and after a string of four pars, McIlroy dropped his first shot of the day at the par-three seventh.
An errant tee shot forced the 26-year-old to leave himself a 20-footer for par, which he just left low to move back to four under for the tournament.
It was a big blow for McIlroy, who wasn’t doing an awful lot wrong—he just couldn’t negotiate his way to birdies.
And it got worse before it got better for the four-time major champion, as he posted an ugly double bogey on the par-four ninth to fall back to two under for the tournament.
After that, however, something clicked.
Is Rory McIlroy too far back to win the Dubai Desert Classic?
McIlroy immediately posted a birdie on the par-five 10th hole, followed by more birdies on 12, 13 and 15.
He could easily have carded more during that loop yet saved his best for the last two holes.
After chalking up a routine birdie on the short 17th to move to seven under for the tournament, McIlroy was going for eagle on the last.
A stunning three wood into the 564-yard hole just crept over the water and rolled up the green toward the flag, leaving a 10-footer to move to nine under.
The putt was unfortunately left low again, but the Northern Irishman would tap in for birdie to cap off a stunning back nine.
That’s been something of a theme for McIlroy this week, as he’s played the Emirates Golf Club’s final nine holes in 11 under over the course of the tournament—it’s just sloppy errors on the front nine costing him.
Favourable conditions on Saturday means that eight under is unlikely to be enough to trouble the leaders, but if McIlroy can produce another surge of brilliance on Sunday then he could give them something to think about.
Following his round, McIlroy said that he may be too far adrift of the top of the leaderboard to win the title before lamenting the way he's played the front nine over the week, per Sky Sports:
It is going to be a long shot. I came back from seven shots behind at Wentworth a couple of years ago, so it's not out of the realms of possibility. But at the same time, you know, it's a great field here, and I need the wind to blow a lot this afternoon and I need to play a front nine tomorrow just like I played the back nine there today. I've played the back nine this week very well, so there's a lot there to sort of take from that. There's just a few too many mistakes in there that I need to try and figure out why they are happening.