Abu Dhabi - Shane Lowry continued his mastery over the par-three holes of the Abu Dhabi Golf Club on Friday, making birdies on three out of four to take a commanding lead into the final round of the HSBC Championship.
The Irishman has now birdied the par-3 seventh, 12th and 15th holes of the golf course on each of the first three rounds, carrying him to a three-shot lead in the $7 million event.
He had four other birdies to show in his five-under par 67, a commendable effort in windy conditions that took him to a 17-under-par 199 after 54 holes.
In his quest for a first win since 2015, Lowry enjoys a three-shot lead over South African Richard Sterne (69) going into the final round on Saturday.
England's Ian Poulter (69) leapt to solo third place at 12-under par with an eagle on his final hole, smashing a three wood to eight feet and making the putt.
Spain's Pablo Larrazabal (68), champion here in 2014, was one shot behind Poulter in fourth place at 11-under.
World number two Brooks Koepka (70) improved to tied ninth place at nine-under par, but would have to make up a deficit of eight shots to prevent Lowry from winning.
A high finish would help the American regain his world number one ranking, although it depends on how England's Justin Rose plays this week on the US PGA Tour's Desert Classic.
After starting with a birdie on the par-five second hole, the 31-year-old Lowry unexpectedly made a bogey on the par-three fourth and was briefly caught at the top by Scotsman Scott Jamieson, who made a fast start with three birdies in four holes, and Sterne.
But a hat-trick of birdies from the sixth hole onwards helped him move ahead even as the rest of the field struggled in the wind.
Sterne kept pushing Lowry with a chipped-in eagle on the 10th hole, but birdies on the par-three 12th and 15th took the Irishman three clear.
Even thought he had a three-shot cushion, Lowry wasn’t taking anything for granted.
“Obviously, I need to go out and play my own game and stay aggressive and see what the lads behind me can do," said the world number 75, who could move to inside the top-50 with a win Saturday.
"I'm not going to say I feel invincible (on the par-threes), because we all know that this game is not easy, and it can jump up and bite you when you least expect it. I'm just trying to go out and do what I’ve been doing. I’ve been hitting some lovely iron shots. It just so happens that I've hit them on the par 3s and holed a few putts."
Sterne, who has dropped to number 281 in the world ranking following various injury issues, is winless since the 2013 Johannesburg Open.
He was disappointed he could not close the gap on Lowry by making a birdie on the par-5 18th hole, but delighted with his round.
"I'm very happy, good back nine and I hit the ball pretty decently. It was obviously a lot tougher today. The course showed its teeth," said the 37-year-old from Pretoria.
"It's been a long time since I've been in contention but I've managed to pull it off a few times, so maybe there’s some magic left in me."
World number three Dustin Johnson failed to make a charge and shot an even-par 72 to fall to tied 40th place.
Defending champion Tommy Fleetwood shot a similar score to Johnson and was tied 50th at three-under par.
Leading third-round scores in the EPGA Abu Dhabi Championship on Friday at the par-72 National course of Abu Dhabi Golf Club:
199 – Shane Lowry (IRL) 62-70-67
202 – Richard Sterne (RSA) 65-68-69
204 – Ian Poulter (ENG) 66-69-69
205 – Pablo Larrazabal (ESP) 65-72-68
206 – Maximillian Kieffer (GER) 68-71-67, Thomas Pieters (BEL) 67-70-69, Scott Jamieson (SCO) 69-66-71, Soren Kjeldsen (DEN) 66-69-71
207 – Brooks Koepka (USA) 67-70-70, Paul Waring (ENG) 70-67-70, Lee Westwood (ENG) 66-68-73
208 – Benjamin Hebert (FRA) 68-71-69, Jordan Smith (ENG) 72-66-70, Joost Luiten (NED) 69-68-71, David Horsey (ENG) 71-66-71, Dominic Foos (GER) 68-68-72, Grant Forrest (SCO) 71-65-72, Louis Oosthuizen (RSA) 65-68-75
209 – Gaganjeet Bhullar (IND) 70-70-69, Ryan Fox (NZL) 69-70-70, Matt Wallace (ENG) 70-68-71, Adri Arnaus (ESP) 69-68-72, Alexander Bjork (SWE) 66-71-72, Gavin Green (MAL) 69-67-73
210 – Thomas Bjorn (DEN) 70-71-69, David Lipsky (USA) 68-73-69, Darren Fichardt (RSA) 73-68-69, Branden Grace (RSA) 70-69-71, Jack Singh Brar (ENG) 69-68-73, Tom Lewis (ENG) 69-67-75
212 – Raphael Jacquelin (FRA) 71-70-71, Dustin Johnson (USA) 69-71-72, Erik van Rooyen (RSA) 70-69-73, Callum Shinkwin (ENG) 71-68-73, Bradley Dredge (WAL) 70-68-74, Martin Kaymer (GER) 66-72-74, Lucas Herbert (AUS) 71-65-76