Tuesday 21 January 2020

Donald keen on bringing McIlroy down to Earth

Ewan Murray in Dubai

So to Rory McIlroy versus Luke Donald. World No 1 versus world No 2. Exactly the climax to their season that the European Tour had hoped for. And, given the roles played by both individuals in Europe's epic Ryder Cup win, perfectly fitting as a campaign denouement.

McIlroy has already claimed the Race to Dubai but he could yet be halted in his bid to depart the Earth Course with a second trophy by a rejuvenated Donald.

The pair will play together today – in itself a rarity – after completing round three of the Dubai World Championship as joint leaders at 17-under par. It seemed entirely appropriate that, in the final act of yesterday's round, McIlroy holed out for birdie to match Donald's total.

Donald has already completed a hugely impressive run at this venue. He last dropped a shot on the eighth during his second round a year ago, meaning he has gone a full 100 holes without a bogey on a card here. Even the Englishman himself is somewhat taken aback by that statistic, given his earlier struggles to come to grips with the Earth Course.

"That's a little hard to fathom," Donald said. "That's some good going. I bet my next best run is not even close to that; probably 40 or 50 holes. It's something I'll store away in the memory bank and use to my advantage down the road.

"I was aware that I hadn't made a bogey in this tournament and I didn't want one. After thinking about it walking up the last couple of holes, I kind of remembered that I hadn't made a bogey in round four of Dubai last year. But I didn't realise the number was so high."

From McIlroy, there was mischief. "Well, if you look at it logically, it means he is due a bogey," he said with a smile.

McIlroy, for all his brilliance, is commonly far more erratic than Donald in terms of scoring.

With Donald's century complete, a fascinating tussle awaits. Donald is the man in form, having won last weekend in Hong Kong, but McIlroy seems focused as he looks to round off a stunning year with yet another victory.

The contrast between golfing styles of the two players, who each signed for a third round of 66, offers extra intrigue.

"It's not that difficult for me, I know my game is different to Rory's," Donald added. "He is a power player and obviously he has a great short game as well. I can't go out and try to hit the ball harder or anything like that. I just have to play my own game and not get ahead of myself; that's what I intend to be doing.

"Rory is hitting it so far right now. I looked over him on the 12th, it looked like he was hitting a sand iron into the green. I was using six iron. So it's a different golf course for us."

McIlroy admitted, if such confirmation was required, how much he revels in his present status and what an endorsement would mean to him.

The 23-year-old has been battling a fever all weekend, with which he was awake at 4am yesterday . "I am proud of myself, the way I have hung in there because I haven't been feeling great," McIlroy said.

"I've been very motivated this week, for some reason. "No matter what happens, I'll still be the world No1 going into next year but it would be good to put an exclamation mark on it, if you want. I really want to win. I think that's obvious. I want to go out there and play well, to play the way I have done in final rounds over the last few months."

Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel are the most prominently poised in seeking to trigger an alternative narrative. The South African pair lie three off the lead with the field tightly bunched behind them. Still, the prospect of golf's two leading lights battling each other on a home stretch is the one most onlookers, and the European Tour, will cling to.

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