Thomas Pieters and Ross Fisher at 17-under on moving day, putting them one ahead of Rory McIlroy
Matt Fitzpatrick flourishes with best round of the Championship
20 January 2018, Abu Dhabi, UAE: Rory McIlroy continued his stunning comeback with a seven-under par 65 placing him just one off the lead at 16-under, a shot behind leaders Thomas Pieters and Ross Fisher, in round three of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship presented by EGA. Fisher matched McIlroy’s 65 to put him in a two-way tie with overnight leader Pieters, who scored 67.
McIlroy’s confidence was clear to see as he reflected on another strong performance on the course: “Today was another great round and another really good confidence builder. Not just for this week but for the rest of the season. I felt really comfortable, really relaxed out there. I’ve just been trying to play my game and it’s going pretty well so far.”
Looking ahead to the final day, McIlroy said: “It would mean a lot to win here in Abu Dhabi. I’ve had a lot of close calls here – I think about six top threes or something like that. I’ve never won on my first start back out. I’m just going to try and do the same as I’ve done these last three days. Just go out and try and shoot the best score I possibly can.”
Young prodigy Matt Fitzpatrick delivered on day three, as he posted the Championship’s lowest score of the week. His nine-under round of 63 propelled him up the scoreboard in meteoric style and he now sits just two off the lead with everything to play for in round four.
On a day where the overnight leader never once faltered, Pieters continued in irresistible form in front of the packed galleries. The Belgian delivered five birdies and kept his scorecard bogey-free around the pristine National Course, which he described as “perfect”, post-round.
Pieters thoughts were now firmly focused on Sunday’s finale, stating: “I think I played really well today and hit some really good shots. It’s the first event of the year, and this is exactly where I want to be. You want to have a some nerves to feel like you’re in contention, so I’m looking forward to tomorrow.”
Fisher, who remained calm and collected while sinking his final birdie putt on the 18th for a 67 round, said: “It was another good day and I felt like I played solid. Looking forward to the challenge of the last day but momentum is a massive thing out here so let’s see what happens but hopefully I can have some more fun.
Looking ahead, Fisher said: “To have a chance to go out there tomorrow and have a chance of putting my name amongst that illustrious property of players would be great and just having a chance to win the first event for me of The European Tour season. It is such a prestigious event here in Abu Dhabi, you only have to walk up 18 and see the list of past champions.”
With plenty of world-class golf being played, the leader-board is incredibly tight, with 19 players at 11-under or better.
Undoubtedly though, it was Matt Fitzpatrick who made the biggest move of the day. The Englishman impressed with his remarkable 63, just one shot short of tying the National Course record, set by Henrik Stenson back in the inaugural Championship in 2006. Performing beyond his own expectations, the 2016 DP World Tour Championship winner was clearly buoyant after coming off the 18th green, where he said that anything is possible in tomorrow’s finale:
“When it’s your day, it’s your day,” Fitzpatrick grinned. “I just holed every putt and I felt so comfortable on the greens. Obviously I’ve scored ridiculously well today. That’s what’s nice. I’m back in the tournament and it’s something at the start of the year that I wanted to do is contend more. Tomorrow I need to play a better long game than today. If I go out and shoot the same score, I’ll be a happy man. I think it will be tough to beat.”
Weekend attendees at the Championship were treated to the very highest quality golf. Just down from the top of the leader board, other luminaries of the game are trying their very best to muscle in on the action. These include defending champion Tommy Fleetwood, World Number One Dustin Johnson and two-time champion Paul Casey.
Elsewhere in the field, Belgium’s Thomas Detry made a significant jump up the leader-board and will head into the final round two shots back in tied-fourth after an impressive eight-under round of 64. Popular tour figure Andrew Johnston, known to all as “Beef”, also shot the best round of his week to put himself into contention for the Falcon Trophy with a six-under 66.
The 2018 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship presented by EGA runs until tomorrow 21 January with Abu Dhabi Sports Council looking to top last year’s turnout of more than 69,000 spectators. The 2017 tournament grew the championship’s social media following by more than 65% and the HD TV coverage, with a potential reach of almost half a billion viewers, allowed a global audience to watch the world’s best vie for the coveted Falcon Trophy and a share in the US $3 million prize purse.