Bogey free Fleetwood takes one shot lead over McIlroy in Dubai Invitational -
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Bogey free Fleetwood takes one shot lead over McIlroy in Dubai Invitational  

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Tommy Fleetwood (ENG) on the 7th tee during Round 3 of the Dubai Invitational 2024 at the Dubai Creek Resort, Dubai, UAE 13/01/2024
Picture: Golffile | Thos Caffrey

From V Krishnaswamy

Dubai: Tommy Fleetwood has been around on the DP World Tour for more than decade and has half a dozen wins, too, and has been the Race to Dubai winner in 2017. So, he was understandably surprised to hear that the 54-hole lead he was holding at the inaugural Dubai Invitational was the first in ten years.

Quite amused and surprised, he asked, “Is it really? I’m not leaving yet. Yeah, it was nice. It’s a strange stat.”

And then quickly turned to the game this afternoon, with which he was happy. During the course of the day, he shot a bogey free 8-under 63 to lead, Rory McIlroy (67), by one with 18 holes to go.

McIlroy had no nightmarish holes like quadruple on the second day, but it only five birdies and a bogey against Fleetwood’s eight birdies and no bogeys.

Fleetwood is 15-under and McIlroy one behind at 14-under. Between the two, they have seven wins in the region – Fleetwood, two and both in Abu Dhabi, while McIlroy has five – three at the Hero Desert Classic, where he defends the title next week, and two at the DP World Tour Championships.

Fleetwood began the day three behind World No. 2 McIlroy, but even before hitting the halfway stage of the round, he had the lead on his own.

At one stage on the back nine, Fleetwood with a string of birdies, was as much as three clear, though McIlroy, two groups behind, had played fewer holes. McIlroy narrowed that gap soon.

McIlroy was even with one each of a birdie and bogey on front nine. As Fleetwood added four more birdies between 10th and 13th, McIlroy hit back with four birdies of his own including three in a row from 11th to the 13th and another one on 16th. The gap stayed at one in Fleetwood’s favour.

Fleetwood added, “I felt I played very well, got off to the perfect start and got momentum early on, which I didn’t have yesterday. And then, yeah, that little patch through the middle of the back nine, really, where you just start seeing putts going in, it’s funny, really, when you get a day like that and you’re just looking at them and you just feel like you can come close. So, yeah, nice day to be out on the course.”

On the difference in putting between the second and third days, he added, “I putted well for like the last six or seven holes yesterday. I didn’t putt that bad, I just didn’t get the ball in the hole. So, in essence, it wasn’t great.

“And today, yeah, I practised yesterday, and I hit a couple of really nice putts early on. Was rolling the ball well. Hit the greens well. Today they went my way.”

While Fleetwood and McIlroy will battle it out for the pro honours on Sunday, their amateur partners in the 54-hole event, battled it out on Saturday.

In the team event, Fleetwood’s partner Ali Fatourechi took the title in the 54-hole competition at 24-under, with tournament host and McIlroy’s partner from Thursday and Saturday Abdulla Al Naboodah finished on the same total but lost out on final-round score.

The reigning Race to Dubai champion McIlroy, said, “I think just first week back (in the new season), (and) being in the final group, I started feeling a little bit of the buzz and the pressure, trying to win a golf tournament.”

He added, “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.”

McIlroy is looking at a winning start to the season for the second year in a row – he won the Hero Dubai Desert Classic last year – and now the Dubai Invitational precedes that.

Thorbjorn Olesen (66) was lying third at 12-under, while three players including two South Africans, Zander Lombard (67) and Thriston Lawrence (67) and Englishman Jordan Smith (67) were tied for fourth place at 11-under. One behind them were American Sean Crocker, Dane Rasmus Højgaard and German Yannik Paul.

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