Omega Dubai Desert Classic Round 3: Gallacher gallops into lead overhauling McIlroy

Stephen Gallacher of Scotland in action during the third round of the Omega Dubai Desert Classic on the Majlis Course at the Emirates Golf Club on February 1, 2014 in Dubai, UAE. (GETTY)

Stephen Gallacher produced one of the finest back nines in the history of the European Tour on Saturday to stand on the verge of becoming the first player to successfully defend the $2.5 million Omega Dubai Desert Classic.

The 39-year-old Scot was doing nothing very much with seven straight pars and a bogey when he suddenly went on the rampage.

From the ninth, Gallacher nailed an eagle and eight birdies in 10 holes. His nine-under 28 on the back nine equalled the European Tour record.

By the time he had finished, he was three clear of the field, although tournament favourite Rory McIlroy eased that back to two strokes by the end of the day.

The Ulsterman, who led after the first two rounds, had a steady 69, with rising US player Brooks Koepka (70) and Danish hope Thorbjorn Olesen (65) four strokes off the pace on 12 under.

A further stroke back came a trio consisting of Englishman Robert Rock, Italian Edoardo Molinari and Finn Roope Kakko, all of whom had 68s.

Prior to Gallacher's all-out assault on the Majlis course, it had looked like a day for the twenty-somethings as McIlroy (24) and Koepka (23) went head-to-head in the final pairing with Olesen (24) closing in fast on them.

McIlroy bogeyed the first for the second straight day, but bounced back with an eagle at the third and, while he was unable to reproduce the fireworks he showed in the first round, he looked comfortable all day.

He produced a rock-solid two-under back nine, with birdies on 10 and 17, to edge to within two strokes of Gallacher, who he will partner in Sunday's final pairing.

On the back of some inspired putting, Koepka briefly nudged ahead of the Northern Irishman, but bogeys at 12, 14 and 15 pulled him back into a tie for third with Olesen.

Tiger Woods' hopes of winning the Dubai Desert Classic for a record-equalling third time were all but smashed after he carded a third round of 70.

It was an improved performance compared to the day before for the world number one, but he was left trailing way down the field with no chance of closing the gap.

"Wasted a lot of opportunities out there," said Woods of his round. "I only hit a couple of bad shots, missed a ton of putts and just threw away a lot of shots."

Woods missed the cut in his first tournament of the year at Torrey Pines last week and admits that he is struggling to get his game together after a long winter break.

At the other end of the spectrum, Gallacher gobbled up most of his chances.

"It was a bit of a struggle to start with especially the first three holes," the Scot said.

"I never found the fairway. Then I hit it stiff at nine and from then on I kept hitting it close and if I hit it to 30 feet I holed it.

"I found last year it's easier when you're leading rather than chasing so I tried to get as many birdies as I could. I didn't want to count them up," said Gallacher whose Dubai win 12 months ago was his first title in nearly a decade.

His remarkable nine-under effort of 28 was the equal lowest back-nine score on tour in relation to par.

McIlroy birdied the 17th to add some lustre to another frustrating round for the twice major winner who returned a 69 after finding only four fairways and missing a series of middle-distance putts.

Playing partner Brooks Koepka (70) of the United States and Dane Thorbjorn Olesen (65) shared third spot on 204.

"I didn't drive the ball particularly well. I'm probably going to work on a few things on the range and I also felt like I hit a lot of good putts and they just didn't go in," said Northern Irishman McIlroy.

"I got off to another shaky start...the conditions were tricky out there, it was breezy. It was tough to get close to some of these pins."

McIlroy, 24, was erratic.

He landed a 220-yard six-iron within a few feet of the pin for an eagle at the third that left him grinning gleefully but there was little more to smile about for a player who seemed as though he might run away with the tournament after shooting a 63 in Thursday's first round.

Gallacher's imperious form means McIlroy may have to wait a little longer to end a 14-month title drought on the tour.

"I need to go out there, hit a few more fairways and focus on a few things in my game, not focus on what he is doing," said McIlroy who went close to claiming the $2.5 million prize for a hole-in-one at the par-four 17th.

His tee shot just missed the cup as fiancee Caroline Wozniacki looked on.

"You can't really see the pin," added McIlroy. "I saw the pitch mark and it must have just run past the hole - it could have paid for my wedding."

Scores from the European Tour Dubai Desert Classic at the par-72 course on Saturday in Dubai

200 Stephen Gallacher (Britain)       66 71 63

202 Rory McIlroy (Britain)            63 70 69

204 Brooks Koepka (U.S.)              69 65 70
    Thorbjorn Olesen (Denmark)        71 68 65

205 Robert Rock (Britain)             67 70 68
    Edoardo Molinari (Italy)          65 72 68
    Steve Webster (Britain)           71 70 64

206 Roope Kakko (Finland)             69 69 68

207 Dawie Van der Walt (South Africa) 72 70 65
    Jamie Donaldson (Britain)         69 68 70
    Darren Fichardt (South Africa)    69 72 66
    Emiliano Grillo (Argentina)       71 67 69
    Damien McGrane (Ireland)          66 70 71

208 Thongchai Jaidee (Thailand)       68 69 71
    Bernd Wiesberger (Austria)        70 70 68
    Paul Waring (Britain)             70 70 68
    Romain Wattel (France)            68 73 67
    Richard Sterne (South Africa)     66 73 69

209 Anthony Wall (Britain)            74 66 69
    Marco Crespi (Italy)              69 71 69
    Danny Willett (Britain)           71 65 73
    Colin Montgomerie (Britain)       70 70 69
    Raphael Jacquelin (France)        69 71 69
    Matthew Baldwin (Britain)         66 74 69
    Soren Hansen (Denmark)            67 71 71
    Francesco Molinari (Italy)        69 69 71
    Joost Luiten (Netherlands)        70 69 70
    Paul Casey (Britain)              70 72 67

210 Jorge Campillo (Spain)            68 72 70
    Chris Doak (Britain)              71 68 71
    Brett Rumford (Australia)         69 70 71
    Morten Madsen (Denmark)           71 67 72
    Thomas Bjorn (Denmark)            72 70 68
    Jaco Van Zyl (South Africa)       71 68 71
    Hennie Otto (South Africa)        68 73 69
    Soren Kjeldsen (Denmark)          68 71 71

211 Paul Lawrie (Britain)             68 71 72
    Mikko Ilonen (Finland)            69 72 70
    Tiger Woods (U.S.)                68 73 70
    Rafael Cabrera-Bello (Spain)      71 69 71
    Simon Dyson (Britain)             69 69 73
    Scott Hend (Australia)            69 72 70
    Pablo Larrazabal (Spain)          74 68 69
    Lee Slattery (Britain)            70 71 70
    Kim Si-Hwan (South Korea)         70 69 72
    Robert Karlsson (Sweden)          73 67 71

212 Maximilian Kieffer (Germany)      71 70 71
    Henrik Stenson (Sweden)           70 67 75
    Chris Wood (Britain)              73 69 70
    Seve Benson (Britain)             72 70 70
    Scott Jamieson (Britain)          73 69 70
    Magnus Carlsson (Sweden)          69 69 74
    Justin Walters (South Africa)     69 68 75
    Noh Seung-Yul (South Korea)       69 72 71
    Shiv Kapur (India)                72 70 70
    Eduardo De La Riva (Spain)        70 70 72
    Marcel Siem (Germany)             72 67 73
    Gregory Bourdy (France)           71 68 73
    Fabrizio Zanotti (Paraguay)       72 70 70

213 Julien Quesne (France)            66 70 77
    Kristoffer Broberg (Sweden)       71 69 73

214 Gregory Havret (France)           70 72 72
    Fred Couples (U.S.)               70 71 73

215 Alvaro Quiros (Spain)             69 72 74
    Gary Stal (France)                74 68 73
    Michael Hoey (Britain)            70 72 73
    Carlos Del Moral (Spain)          70 72 73
    Alejandro Canizares (Spain)       74 67 74

217 Alexander Levy (France)           69 72 76
    Jose-Filipe Lima (Portugal)       71 71 75

218 Tom Lewis (Britain)               71 69 78

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