Rory McIlroy closes in as Thomas Pieters and Ross Fisher share Abu Dhabi Championship lead
Last Updated: 21/01/18 2:50pm
Rory McIlroy will go into the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship just one shot behind joint-leaders Thomas Pieters and Ross Fisher after shooting a superb seven-under 65 on Saturday.
McIlroy, who has made his return to competitive golf this week after a three-month lay-off, took advantage of the perfect conditions at the Abu Dhabi Golf Club to move to 16 under and into third place.
The Northern Irishman had nudged his way up the leaderboard with a 66 on Friday after an opening 69 and he continued to make gradual process on the front nine in the third round with three birdies.
Further birdies followed at the 10th, 12th and 14th before he dropped his first shot of the week at the par-three 15th when he took two attempts to get out of a greenside bunker, although he still holed an excellent bogey putt from the fringe.
McIlroy quickly got back on track by chipping in from off the front of the green on the 17th and he followed that up with his eighth birdie of the day on the 18th.
Pieters produced a fine front-running display for much of the day after setting out with a one-shot lead, but he was joined by Fisher at the top of the leaderboard on 17 under late in the day.
The Belgian kept his nose in front with four birdies on the front nine, but he could only add one birdie on the back nine - at the 16th - and he had to battle to make par on the closing two holes as the wind began to strengthen - a sign of things to come on Sunday with blustery conditions forecast.
Pieters signed for a five-under 67 but Englishman Fisher went two better thanks to eight birdies and just one bogey - at the fifth - with his final gain at the 18th giving him a share of the lead.
English duo Matthew Fitzpatrick and Tommy Fleetwood are tied for fourth place on 15 under - the duo joining a birdie blitz which saw the top five playing the course in a combined 33 under par.
Fitzpatrick looked to be on track for a sub-60 round when he played the first 12 holes in nine under par with a remarkable nine birdies, but he then parred three successive holes before dropping a shot at the par-four 16th when he pulled his second shot into the greenside rough.
A birdie at the 18th still secured him a 63, just one shot shy of the course record which was set by Henrik Stenson back in 2006.
Defending champion Fleetwood continued his excellent week with five birdies in a flawless 67 to remain firmly in contention.
Pieters' compatriot Thomas Detry negotiated the course in just one shot less than Fitzpatrick, his eight-under 64 including a run of five straight birdies from the seventh.
Detry is on 14 under alongside last week's BMW SA Open winner Chris Paisley, who finished strongly with three birdies over the final four holes for a 66, and Andrew Johnston, who displayed further evidence of his return to form with a 66.
World No 1 Dustin Johnson is tied for 12th place on 12 under following a 68, while Spain's Jorge Campillo, who began the day one behind Pieters, was one of the few players who managed not to get into red figures as he went round in level-par 72 to leave him back in joint-17th on 11 under.