ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (AP) – Rory McIlroy fired a 7-under 65 Saturday in the third round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship to sit one shot behind leaders Ross Fisher and Thomas Pieters.
Northern Ireland’s McIlroy is on 16-under 200 overall with the former world No. 1 playing his first event since October.
England’s Fisher also shot a 65, while overnight leader Pieters added a 67 to reach 17-under 199 on a low-scoring day in the absence of any wind at the Abu Dhabi Golf Club’s National Course.
Top-ranked Dustin Johnson (68) is five shots behind the leaders.
Defending champion Tommy Fleetwood (67) was tied fourth on 201 with Matthew Fitzpatrick, whose 9-under 63 is the lowest round of the tournament so far.
McIlroy finally dropped a shot in the tournament on the par-3 15th when he could not get out of the greenside bunker in one attempt. He made up for this with a chipped-in birdie on the 17th and added another on the par-5 18th.
McIlroy has never finished outside the top five in seven of his last eight starts here.
“I’ve had a lot of close calls here, I think about six top threes or something like that,” he said.
Fisher has been in good form since the second half of 2017, and has risen to 31st in the rankings. However, his last win came back at the 2014 Tshwane Open.
On Saturday, he started with three birdies in first four holes before dropping a shot on the fifth, and then played solid golf and made key par saves in his 65.
“I think a good momentum putt was probably the birdie on eighth,” Fisher said. “We traded birdies, good shots, and just thoroughly enjoyed the guys’ company and look forward to doing it again tomorrow.”
Pieters was disappointed at not making a birdie on the par-5 18th hole to stay one ahead of Fisher.
“A lot of really good shots and then finished poorly,” the Belgian said. “That was a terrible last hole.”
Johnson is tied for 12th with four other players after six birdies and two bogeys.
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