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Rory McIlroy was in a class of his own on Saturday, seizing a four-shot lead with a six-under-par 66 after the third round of the Dubai Desert Classic.
The world number one reeled off five birdies in the opening eight holes before picking up his sixth shot of a faultless round at the 17th to finish with a 20-under tally of 196.
Denmark's Morten Orum Madsen (66), chasing his second European Tour win, was in second place on 200, two ahead of Britain's Lee Westwood (69).
One ahead after three rounds, the McIlroy started strongly and despite taking his foot off the pedal on the back-nine, returned a sizzling 66 to reach 20-under-par for the tournament.
A birdie on the final hole would have given the Northern Irishman a record-equalling 54-hole score of 21-under, but he still did well to walk off with a par after hitting his approach into water.
Madsen matched McIlroy’s bogey-free 66 to take solo second on 16-under, two ahead of England’s Lee Westwood as defending champion Stephen Gallacher, who is chasing his third title on the trot, sits in a share of the fourth a shot further adrift.
The way McIlroy is dominating the proceedings, only an extraordinary turnaround on Sunday will prevent him from completing what would be his second win at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic – a title he first secured in 2009.
“I am not going to complain. I'm four ahead going into the final day, so I’ve put myself in a great position to win. To be bogey free again today was important to me, especially when you're going out with the lead,” said McIlroy, who reeled off five birdies on the front nine and one on the back.
“I just have to go and try and play similar golf to the way I have the first three days. I've been in this position many times before and I know the pitfalls that are waiting out there; it's just a matter of sticking to the same game plan, being aggressive, making committed swings and giving myself as many chances for birdies as I can,” said McIlroy whose last six European Tour starts have yielded three wins – two of them Majors – and three seconds.
“The front nine was very good,” added the four-time Major winner. “I didn't put a foot wrong and when I missed that little short putt on ten, it seemed like that momentum I had just went away. It was nice to make one birdie on 17, and then a great save on the last.”
Dane Madsen had been in danger of missing the cut after an opening 71, but revealed he had taken a lot of confidence from his second round 63.
“Obviously I felt pretty confident from the round I played yesterday - that was one of my best rounds ever,” he said. “I was nice and calm all the way and putted well and hit the ball solidly.
“Obviously he's going to be tough to beat. He looks like he's playing pretty solidly out there, so I'm just going to go out tomorrow and see if I can play some of the same golf that I played today. I won't be too disappointed if I don't win tomorrow.
“I'll be happy if I do what I set out to do and play pretty solidly. Rory is the best golfer in the world right now and it's not looking like he's going to falter but if he does, someone's going to be there to take it.”
“I'll try and stay as close to him as I can - hopefully he's not going to run away too far before the end of the day.”
England’s Westwood, a three-time runner-up in the ‘Major of the Middle East,’ was pleased with his overall game. “Played really solid, barring a couple of poor shots that got penalised, especially the one on the ninth where I took a six.
“This is my first tournament of the year and I am happy with where all aspects of my game are,” added the Englishman, who won the Thailand Golf Championship in December.
The Omega Dubai Desert Classic is backed by Omega as the title sponsor and Emirates Global Aluminium PJSC as sponsor. The co-sponsors are: CNN, Drydocks World & Maritime World, Emirates NBD, Gulf News, Jebel Ali Resorts and Hotels, Mercedes and wasl, while Dubai Duty Free, Neocasa Interiors and Motivate Publishing are the Patrons in golf in DUBAi's drive to showcase the emirate's vibrant golfing scene to a worldwide audience.
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