Dubai - China's Li Haotong displayed his superstar potential
as he outscored Rory McIlroy by four shots in the third round to take a
one-shot lead into the final day of the $3 million Dubai Desert Classic.
Starting his third round on Saturday trailing leader McIlroy
by three shots, the 22-year-old Li put together a superb round of
eight-under-par 64 to finish on 20-under after 54 holes.
Four-time major champion McIlroy came back to the course
early in the morning to complete his second round and made five birdies in
However, he could not get going in the third round and found
himself one-over at the turn. But a much better back nine gave him a
third-round 68 and three-day tally of 19-under 197.
Frenchman Alex Levy had a hole in one at the fourth en route
to a 65, and he is tied third at 17 under par with South African youngster
Haydn Porteous, who also shot 65. England's Andy Sullivan made a big move with
a 63 to rise to fifth place at 200.
Li made four birdies on either half of the golf course and
never looked in trouble because of his impressive ball-striking. Even when he
was not hitting it close, his short game saved him on a couple of occasions,
including a good up-and-down on the 14th hole.
"Played really solid. Especially had a couple
up-and-downs and was quite happy to shoot eight-under on this course,"
said Li, who will become the first male Chinese player to crack the top 50 in
the world rankings if he goes on to win.
"I just wanted to play by myself and play my game. I
thought if I just stayed patient, I will play good. So just did that all
McIlroy, winner of the tournament in 2009 and 2015, is
looking to become the second three-time champion here after Ernie Els.
A couple of loose drives resulted in a par on the par-5
third hole and a bogey on the par-4 eighth, and there was another dropped shot
on the par-3 fourth hole.
But the world number 11, who made a comeback to competitive
golf after more than 100 days out last week in Abu Dhabi, fought back on the
"Hopefully that's the bad one out of the way. I didn't
get off to too bad a start, just a couple of loose ones. Missed a short one on
the fourth and made bogey on eighth," said McIlroy.
"That wasn't too good. But to come back with a 5-under
back nine was good. It was good to knock that birdie in at the last and stay
within one of Li.
"I'll probably need to play a bit better tomorrow to
win, but you know, it's two weeks into the season and I've given myself a
second chance to win a tournament. Looking forward to tomorrow."
Levy aced the par-3 fourth hole and made five consecutive
birdies from the ninth hole in his 65, while Porteous closed with three birdies
in his last three holes.
Leading scores after the third round in the $3 million Dubai Desert Classic at the Emirates Golf Club par-72 Majlis course on Saturday:
196 - Li Haotong (CHN) 66-66-64
197 - Rory McIlroy (NIR) 65-64-68
199 - Alexander Levy (FRA) 67-67-65, Haydn Porteous (RSA) 66-68-65
200 - Andy Sullivan (ENG) 67-70-63
201 - David Horsey (ENG) 63-70-68
202 - Rafa Cabrera Bello (ESP) 69-69-64, Tyrrell Hatton (ENG) 64-72-66, Dylan Frittelli (RSA) 69-67-66, David Lipsky (USA) 69-66-67, Thorbjorn Olesen (DEN) 67-68-67, Wang Jeung-hun (KOR) 69-66-67, Chris Paisley (ENG) 65-69-68, Branden Grace (RSA) 68-65-69
203 - Ian Poulter (ENG) 68-70-65, Thomas Detry (BEL) 68-66-69, Miguel Angel Jimenez (ESP) 66-68-69, Thomas Aiken (RSA) 67-67-69, Alexander Bjork (SWE) 65-68-70, Lasse Jensen (DEN) 65-68-70
204 - An Byeong-hun (KOR) 72-67-65, Tommy Fleetwood (ENG) 69-69-66, Brett Rumford (AUS) 68-70-66, Martin Kaymer (GER) 68-69-67, Andrew Dodt (AUS) 67-69-68, Henrik Stenson (SWE) 70-64-70
205 - Gregory Havret (FRA) 70-68-67, Pat Perez (USA) 69-69-67, Nicolas Colsaerts (BEL) 69-68-68, Scott Hend (AUS) 71-66-68, Sergio Garcia (ESP) 67-69-69, Dean Burmester (RSA) 67-69-69, Edoardo Molinari (ITA) 67-69-69, Alejandro Canizares (ESP) 67-68-70