Top-ranked Luke Donald is on the verge of becoming the first golfer to win the European and American money titles, shooting a 6-under 66 Saturday in the third round of the Dubai World Championship.
Rory McIlroy, who struggled with a 71, needs to win the tournament and Donald needs to finish outside the top nine for any chance of overtaking him for the European money title.
DUBAI WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP
The Greg Norman-designed Earth Course at Jumeirah Golf Estates is hosting the Dubai World Championship for the third season in a row.
Leader Alvaro Quiros heads into the final round holding a two-stroke lead over Paul Lawrie (66) of Scotland. The big-hitting Spaniard shot a 70 on the Earth Course at Jumeirah Golf Estates for a 14-under 202 total. The 2010 British Open winner Louis Oosthuizen (66) is third, followed by Donald, who is six shots behind the leader, in fourth place, while McIlroy dropped to eighth.
If McIlroy fails to win on Sunday, the race is all over regardless of where Donald finishes.
McIlroy, who had a bogey and a deflating double bogey on the front nine, conceded his bid to overtake Donald was over.
“Luke is in a great position and he’s played great the past couple of days,” said McIlroy, whose tennis star girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki was in the gallery. “I expect him to go out and shoot another very solid round tomorrow and wrap things up.”
Donald wasn’t so sure.
“I would be foolish to think it’s over,” Donald said of the money title race. “Tomorrow it will be just like any other day in terms of focus. I will be trying to catch whomever is the leader and trying to win the tournament.”
But Donald was pleased with his round.
“Picked up the birdies when I had opportunities and really took full advantage of all those opportunities,” he said. “Obviously, to score six birdies with no dropped shots was just the round I was looking for.”
Donald said the key to his rise from 26th spot after the opening round was his short game. He opened with a birdie on a hole he had bogeyed the first two days, and then had three more birdies on the front nine. He slowed down on the back nine but birdied two of the last four holes.
“In a certain way, there was a lot of grind out there,” Donald said. “It was a solid round of golf but certainly wasn’t perfect. I hit a few loose shots, but when I got into trouble I was able to really dig myself out of it with some great short game.”
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.
McIlroy came home in a 4-under 32 with birdies at the 11th, 12th, 16th and 18th. But the damage came earlier. He drove into the sand on the third, then ran up a double-bogey 7 at the long seventh after hooking into an unplayable lie in a bush with a 5-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 percent, but that should not stop me. I was trying to stay patient and hit good shots, but I just couldn't do it. "
After complaining of fatigue during two average rounds at the UBS Hong Kong Open last week, McIlroy came from behind on Sunday to win the tournament. He clinched it in dramatic fashion when he holed a shot from a green side bunker.
Still, there is no ignoring that McIlroy has looked run down at times this week.
On Friday he said the fatigue he’d felt for the past several weeks may be the lingering effects of dengue fever. McIlroy said he got blood test results back Thursday that showed his white blood cell count remained low and that he may pull out of next week’s Thailand Golf Championship.
The No. 2-ranked McIlroy believes he picked up a “mild case of dengue fever” when he was playing tournaments in South Korea or China at the end of October and early November. Dengue fever is spread by mosquitoes, generally in tropical areas, and can cause fever, rash and joint pain.
McIlroy, who lost “maybe three or four kilos” when he was sick, said he would see the doctor later Saturday to determine whether he would play the Thai tournament.
Asked about the role his busy schedule in recent months played in his health woes, McIlroy said it had worn him down but that he had no regrets about playing the World Cup in China with countryman Graeme McDowell.
“It was touch and go whether I was going to play. I wanted to play because it was a big deal for me and G-Mac,” he said. “It was something we were really excited about most of the year.
“As much as maybe I shouldn’t have played, I didn’t want to let him down.”
McIlroy said he just needed plenty of rest to fully recover.
“The last couple of weeks have taken a lot out of me after not giving myself enough time to recover straight after the illness,” he said. “It just sort of hit me in the last week or 10 days.”