RORY McIlroy gave the field a sliver of hope as he unexpectedly struggled on the back nine of his third round Saturday, but even then he will go into the final day of the Dubai Desert Classic leading by four shots.
McIlroy took apart the front nine of the Majlis course with five birdies in his first eight holes, but could add just one more to the tally in his last 10 holes.
The back nine of the Majlis course, with its three reachable par-5s, is considerably easier than the front.
But at least the world No.1 kept bogeys out of his card for a second successive day.
A gutsy par save on the par-5 18th hole, where he had hit his second shot into the water but made an up-and-down from the drop zone, allowed him to close the day with a six-under-par 66.
His three-day total now stands at 20-under 196, four better than 26-year-old Dane Morten Orum Madsen, who shot a similar bogey-free 66 in the third round.
"I didn't put a foot wrong on the front nine and when I missed that little short putt on ten, it seemed like that momentum I had, just sort of went away and I had to scramble a little bit for pars coming in," McIlroy said.
"The greens got firm and the wind got up a little bit so it was hard to get the ball close to the hole."
Lee Westwood, who did not make a single bogey in his first 44 holes of the tournament, doubled the par-4 ninth from the middle of the fairway and a third-round 69 was good only for a third place at 14-under par 202, six shots behind the leader.
Scotland's world No.34 and the defending champion, Stephen Gallacher, will have his task cut out if he wants to join a select club of five players who have won the same tournament three successive times.
A mid-round wobble saw him make three bogeys over a stretch of five holes, and even though he recovered to shoot a two-under par 70, he is seven shots adrift of McIlroy.
Gallacher was tied alongside the English duo of Andy Sullivan, winner of the South African Open earlier this year, and Race to Dubai leader Danny Willett, as well as Austria's in-form Bernd Wiesberger.
Madsen, who followed up his nine-under par 63 on Friday with a 66, was mindful of the fact that he was going to be up against the world No.1.
"Obviously, he's going to be tough to beat. He looks like he's playing pretty solidly out there, as well," said the Danish world No.194.
"I'll be happy if I do what I set out to do and play pretty solidly."
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