Rory McIlroy will take a one-shot lead into the final day of the World Tour Championship after the four-time major winner carded a five-under-par 67 in the third round on Saturday.
The Northern Irishman came into day three one shot off the pace, but mixed seven birdies with two bogeys to reclaim top spot on the leaderboard at 14-under, a shot ahead of Englishman Sam Horsfield.
McIlroy had ended day two with a double bogey and began day three in a similar vein, with a bogey on the first hole after an errant tee shot, but he righted the ship with consecutive birdies on the second and third.
He made further gains to make the turn on 33, and added two more birdies on the 11th and 13th before a bogey on the par-three 17th – which could have been a lot worse – saw him slip back briefly into second place.
But the 32-year-old held his nerve on 18th sinking a nine-foot putt for his final birdie of an eventful round to claim a slender advantage at the European Tour’s season-ending event.
“I’m right where I want to be,” McIlroy said. “I want to be contending on Sundays in golf tournaments and feel like I’m back to playing the way I should.”
“I got off to a really nice start on the back nine. I gave myself a good chance on 14 and 16 and didn’t convert those. Then bogey on 17, which in the end was a good bogey.
On that par 3 McIlroy’s tee shot missed the green, bounce through the rough and danced along the edge of the cliffs. It eventually settled on a narrow ledge, to gasps among spectators.
McIlroy opted against taking a drop, which was the preferred choice of his caddie, Harry Diamond, and managed to clip a shot off the stone and through the green. He missed the return chip by inches before putting for a bogey.
“Harry was pleading with me not to hit it,” McIroy said. “He was like, ‘We can just go back and make 4 at the last.”‘
Horsfield, who started in a three-way tie for first, struck three birdies and an eagle, offset by two bogeys, to sit a shot behind McIlroy and one ahead of Scotland’s Robert MacIntyre and Sweden’s Alexander Bjork, who were tied for third on 12-under.
Australia’s trio all recorded solid rounds.
Min-Woo Lee shot 69 to be seven-under and equal 21st with Jason Scrivener who shot a 70. Lucas Herbert also shot 70 to be five-under, equal-23rd.
Colin Morikawa, playing alongside McIlroy, briefly led but slipped back to a four-way share of fifth. But he remains on course to become the first American to finish a season as the tour’s No. 1 player.