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Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy set for desert duel in Dubai

Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy set for desert duel in Dubai

Tommy Fleetwood fired a brilliant bogey-free 63 to set up a mouthwatering final-day duel with Rory McIlroy at the Dubai Invitational.

The Englishman started the third round three shots behind his Ryder Cup team-mate but held a three-shot advantage of his own at one point as he made eight birdies to get to 15 under at Dubai Creek Resort.

McIlroy is made of stern stuff, however, and he also came home in 32 to sign for a 67 and sit just one shot behind with 18 holes to play.

The duo were also doing battle in the team event, with Fleetwood's partner Ali Fatourechi taking the title in the 54-hole competition at 24 under, with tournament host and McIlroy's partner from Thursday and Saturday Abdulla Al Naboodah finishing on the same total but losing out on final-round score.

Dane Thorbjørn Olesen was at 12 under in the individual event, one clear of South African duo Thriston Lawrence and Zander Lombard and England's Jordan Smith.

Fleetwood has won twice in the United Arab Emirates down the road in Abu Dhabi but is looking for a first win in Dubai and seventh on the DP World Tour.

He finished 2023 with a runner-up finish at the the DP World Tour Championship and after flying in from the PGA TOUR season-opener in Hawaii, he takes a lead into the final round of a DP World Tour event for the first time since 2014.

"I felt I played very well, got off to the perfect start and got momentum early on, which I didn't have yesterday," he said.

"That little patch through the middle of the back nine where you just start seeing putts going in, it's funny when you get a day like that and you're just looking at them and you just feel like you can come close.

"I hit a couple of really nice putts early on, was rolling the ball well and hit the greens well. Today they went my way, just a bit of confidence when you start holing some and just get in that rhythm and that flow."

McIlroy started the day with a two-shot lead but that was soon wiped out by the fast-starting Fleetwood.

The 2017 Race to Dubai champion holed from 21 feet on the first, got up and down on the driveable par-four third and then made a two-putt birdie on the par-five next.

A stunning approach to the sixth left him a tap-in for the solo lead but McIlroy hit an excellent chip on the fourth for an up-and-down and a birdie of this own.

McIlroy then missed the green at the fifth to drop a shot and Fleetwood led by two after he got up and down on the par-five tenth.

The Northern Irishman was in trouble off the tee at the 11th as he found himself in sand and behind a bush only to make a 34-footer for birdie but Fleetwood responded from further out on the 12th.

McIlroy holed from the fringe on the 12th to be just one back again and the ebb and flow continued, with Fleetwood birdieing the par-five 13th after laying up and holing from 37 feet on the 14th to lead by three.

The lead was trimmed to two after McIlroy also played a lay-up on the 13th and the overnight leader then made a vital par save on the next after a duffed chip.

A 22-foot left-to-righter on the 16th had McIlroy back within one and the reigning Race to Dubai champion will now go in search of a sixth triumph in Dubai and a winning start to his season.

"I think just first week back, being in the final group, I started feeling a little bit of the buzz and the pressure, trying to win a golf tournament," he said. "You think you know where your game is until you play in it in a situation like that.

"So I feel like I've been playing pretty well this week and hopefully one more day.

"It was a little bit of a slow start but then I got things going on the back nine. Shot four under on the back to try to keep up with Tommy. I played well on that back nine and earned myself a tee time with him tomorrow and it'll be good fun. I'm looking forward to it."

Olesen carded a bogey-free 66, while Lawrence, Lombard and Smith all signed for rounds of 67 to sit a shot clear of American Sean Crocker, Dane Rasmus Højgaard and German Yannik Paul.

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