Northern Irishman signs for a 7-under-par 65, taking him to 16-under for the tournament, leaving him a shot off the lead going into Sunday's final round
Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship 2018: Rory McIlroy glad to have 'got it out of the way now' after bogey on 15th
Rory McIlroy has form when it comes to turning the par-3 15th hole at the National Course into an event.
Back in 2015, the then world No 1 recorded the first – and still only - hole-in-one of his professional career, on his way to a runner-up finish behind Gary Stal.
Three years on, the statistical quirk he achieved in Round 3 of the 2018 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, presented by EGA, was not exactly one to celebrate in quite the same fashion.
After a rare loose tee-shot in an otherwise enviable exhibition of ball-striking on Saturday in the capital, McIlroy found the greenside bunker at the 179-yard hole.
His ball plugged in the trap, and he was unable to escape the sand at his first attempt. His second go did not much further forward, but at least found grass, and he needed a putt from the fringe to make a four.
As such, the Northern Irishman marked down a bogey on his card. It was the first time in 104 days he had dropped a shot.
Put another way, he had gone 52 holes since making his last bogey, at the 16th hole of his final round at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in October.
He followed that tournament with a lengthy spell away from competition, convalescing from injury, and generally enjoying life away from the course.
The fact this bogey was so noteworthy goes to show just how well he has performed on his return to tour golf. He followed two flawless rounds by signing for a 7-under-par 65, taking him to 16-under for the tournament.
Before the 15th, it had been McIlroy’s longest run without a bogey in European Tour golf, and he explained it was something of a relief when it did come. Focus, he said, could return to the process of playing, rather than being preoccupied with a numeric oddity.
“Not having any bogeys, I wouldn't say it felt nice to bogey the 15th, but least I have the bogey now,” McIlroy said.
“I've got it out of the way now, and I'm not thinking about it anymore. It was a good bogey in the end. My scrambling has been really good, there were a couple of key up-and-downs, and that's helped a lot.”
Ahead of the final round, only Ross Fisher and Thomas Pieters are better off – and that by just a lone stroke – than McIlroy, who will play the penultimate two-ball alongside Matthew Fitzpatrick. Maybe glory beckons.
Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:
- Matthew Fitzpatrick happy despite missing out on course record on Saturday
- Live blog: Round 3 as it happened
- Marquee trio of Fleetwood, McIlroy and Johnson live up to hype
McIlroy has yet to win at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, and has not won anywhere since the Tour Championship in September 2016, a fallow run that – while it has myriad caveats – is no doubt gnawing at the world No 11.
“It would mean a lot,” McIlroy said of the prospect of carrying off the Falcon Trophy on Sunday evening.
“I've had a lot of close calls here, I think about six top threes. I've never won my first start back out. I was close last year in South Africa, when [Graeme Storm] beat me in a play-off.
“It would mean a lot. It's felt like a while since I've won, and just to give myself these chances. I'm excited to get back on the horse and give myself another chance tomorrow.”
No matter how he fares on the final day, McIlroy is satisfied his game is in good working order after the break.
“It's always different trying to go from the range on to the golf course,” he said.
“Even in practice rounds, I felt like I was playing well, but it's still different whenever you get a card in your hand and you're in competitive play.
“But to see how I've played over the past three days, and how comfortable I've been out there hitting certain shots, scoring, getting up-and-down, and just really getting my golf head back on, I've been really pleased.”