Lee Westwood (Getty Images)
Lee Westwood stormed to the top of a congested leaderboard on day three of the Omega Dubai Desert Classic as Rory McIlroy and Thomas Björn faltered.
After finishing his second round 65 with three straight birdies, World Number Three Westwood picked up shots on three of his first four holes today en route to a 67 that lifted him to 15 under.
Germany’s Marcel Siem and Scot Stephen Gallacher - Westwood’s playing partners - were a solitary shot adrift, having each carded 68, along with Spain’s Rafael Cabrera-Bello, who birdied 18 for a 70.
However, joint overnight leaders McIlroy and Björn could only muster rounds of 72 and 73 respectively.
Björn, who had held a two stroke advantage after picking up his third birdie of the day at the tenth, finished poorly with bogeys at 15, 16 and 18, but McIlroy - the winner of this event in 2009 - birdied the closing par five to end an erratic round on a high.
The Ulsterman was joined on 13 under by Martin Kaymer, Scott Jamieson and Joel Sjöholm, the latter’s faultless 66 representing the lowest third round score.
Former Open Champion Ben Curtis, whose 67 included an eagle at 13, and George Coetzee were alongside Björn in a tie for ninth.
A satisfied Westwood said: “I played nicely again. Very solid.
“I got off to a very good start, three under after four, rolled the ball well on the greens and hit a lot of good quality iron shots.
“It was a little bit tougher today, with a tad more breeze up and I guess a few tighter flags. But I coped fairly well with that and 67 is probably about the worst it could have been.”
The Englishman admitted he will enter tomorrow’s final round, which is expected to be made more challenging by high winds, in confident mood.
"I know how to play with the lead,” he added. “What did I win, four times last year? When I get a chance, I'm pretty good at finishing off. I've won 37 times. You know, that's not somebody that's not good with a lead.
“It's a habit. You get used to it. You get used to knowing what to do; when to press, when not to press, when to be patient.
“I’m hitting the ball well. Whatever happens with the weather happens and you just have to contend with it. Whoever plays best will win.”
After struggling to recapture the sparkling form he displayed throughout the first two rounds, McIlroy acknowledged he had room for improvement ahead of Sunday’s play.
“It was pretty ragged to say the least,” he admitted. “I think the conditions were a little tougher, the wind got up, and I had not really played in wind like that all week, so that sort of put me off a little bit, and the greens got a little firmer, pin positions were a little tougher.
“It definitely didn't come as easy to me as it did the first couple of days. I’m going to go to the range and work on a few things, and see if I can iron it out for tomorrow.”
Sjöholm went round in six under for the second day in succession, but revealed he had been considerably happier with his performance in round three.
“I pulled something out of my hat yesterday. Today I played better golf from tee to green and made some good putts out there,” said the Swede, who is chasing a maiden European Tour victory.
“(My) putting has been really good this week. It was quite bad actually on the first day, but great yesterday and great today. I’m just hoping that tomorrow is going to be one of my great putting days.”