ABU DHABI: Thomas Pieters and Ross Fisher are joint leaders going into the final day of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, while a rejuvenated Rory McIlroy is snapping at their heels.
Pieters, of Belgium, shot a five-under par round of 67, while England’s Fisher shot a 65 to share pole position at 17-under par after 54 holes.
McIlroy, returning to professional golf after a layoff of more than three months, matched Fisher’s 65 to finish one shot behind the leading duo.
England’s 23-year-old Matthew Fitzpatrick put together a stunning run of nine birdies in his first 12 holes in a nine-under par 63 round to jump to tied fourth place at 15-under, where he was later joined by the defending champion and compatriot Tommy Fleetwood (67).
World No1 Dustin Johnson was five behind the leaders following a third-round 68.
McIlroy made eight birdies against a solitary bogey — on the 15th hole, his first of the tournament — and was delighted with his performance.
“All in all, it was another great round and another really good confidence builder. Not just for this week, but for the rest of the season as well,” said McIlroy, whose last win was the Tour Championship on the PGA Tour in September 2016.
“Winning would mean a lot. It has felt like a while since I’ve won. I’m excited to get back on the horse and give myself another chance tomorrow.”
The 25-year-old Pieters, one of the game’s longest hitters off the tee, was disappointed not to make a birdie on the par-5 18th hole, where his playing partner Fisher took advantage with a birdie of his own to draw level.
Pieters did make a par on the 18th to extend his bogey-free streak to 42 holes and said: “I missed a lot of putts today, but I think I played pretty good.
“The back nine I played very good but couldn’t really make a putt. The 18th was pretty disappointing. I didn’t hit many good shots there but it’s still nice to make a par on the last after the mess I made.”
Fisher, who started with three birdies in his first four holes, will be paired with Pieters for the fourth successive round Sunday and was looking forward to the challenge.
“I felt like I played really solid again. Only dropped one shot and I can’t remember where that was. I was in the moment, in the zone, just playing one shot at a time,” said the 37-year-old, who has risen to 31st in the world rankings after a good run of recent form.
“Just having a chance to win the first event on the European Tour season, is exciting and I am looking forward to the challenge.”