Tuesday 12 December 2017

McIlroy primed for weekend charge in title defence

Rory McIlroy: Hoping to improve. Pic: AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili
Rory McIlroy: Hoping to improve. Pic: AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili

William S Callahan

Rory McIlroy will start today's third round of the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai with 25 players ahead of him and he trails overnight joint leaders Francesco Molinari and Sergio Garcia by eight shots.

That's a scenario which might begin to look a tad hopeless to some players but, for McIlroy, it's the ideal motivation to shed the remnants of the 'holiday' mood which saw him slump to a 75 on Thursday.

Yesterday's 68 was a seven-shot improvement on his opening bid, and McIlroy is determined to go low over the closing 36 holes.

He has the advantage of being one of the few players in the world who can back up his words with actions from a seemingly hopeless position.

After finishing his round yesterday, McIlroy spoke of his belief that as long as nobody could get further than ten-under par at the halfway stage, he would fancy his chances of grabbing a third DP World Tour Championship victory in four years.

As events transpired, he was 'only' looking at an eight-shot deficit before play began today.

"Thursday was just a bad day and hopefully I can improve again over the weekend.

"I've hit some really good scores here in the past and if I can emulate that over the weekend, I'd be happy enough going into the break," said McIlroy. Molinari and Garcia were more than happy as each player carded a 67 to lead the field. They started the day two behind first round leader Lee Westwood and finished it a shot ahead of the Englishman who carded a 70.

Molinari's brother regained his Tour card from Q-School in Spain on Thursday, so this has been a good week so far for the Italians.

"I'm happy. It was another good day. It's very early, obviously, but it's nice to keep building a nice good round after a good round," said Molinari.

Garcia has won 29 times around the world, but never in November, according to European Tour statisticians. This is also his first time to lead through 36 holes in a European Tour event since the 2014 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.

"It was good fun out there. I mean, I try to enjoy myself as much as possible every time. Obviously when you're playing well, it's a little easier. It was a good day. I felt like I was swinging the club really, really well.

"I was hitting a lot of good shots. Hit a couple iffy putts here and there but I made some really good ones, also. I was very happy to see all of that," said Garcia.

Shane Lowry remained the best-placed of the three Irish contenders on three-under par after 71 yesterday, leaving him five adrift of the leaders. "I'm quite pleased. I played nicely coming in. I'm happy enough. I need to go out and shoot something in the mid-60s to give myself a chance," he said.

Pádraig Harrington also scored 71 for a one-under-par 143 total after two rounds.

He is looking forward to a ten-week break after Dubai and would like a couple of decent rounds to end his season on a positive note.

Henrik Stenson (69) and Danny Willett (70), the top two in the Race to Dubai rankings, were bracketed in a group on three-under par which included Lowry.

The permutations for the eventual winner of the rankings title are varied, and Stenson takes nothing for granted, despite the projections suggesting he is the man to replace McIlroy as the R2D champion.

Meanwhile, Seamus Power pulled off a gritty finale to make the cut in the RSM Classic at Sea Island, Georgia.

Power, who began the day on three-under, took a double-bogey six at the 14th, which left him needing three birdies in four holes to stick around for the weekend.

But he was up to the task, producing a stunning finish to birdie the last three holes, two par fives and a par three, for a round of 70 and five-under par to make the cut right on the mark.

Canada's Mackenzie Hughes shot 67 to lead by two on 14-under.

DP World Tour Championship

Live, Sky Sports 4, 8.0am

RSM Classic

Live, Sky Sports 4, 6.30pm

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