Two masterful performances came out of the third round of the DP World Tour Championship, Dubai…otherwise known as the European Tour Championship.
The first would have to be Rory McIlroy’s. He and Luke Donald started the day tied for the lead, although Rory was in the last group with Marc Warren while Luke was playing one group ahead with South African Branden Grace. Both Warren and Grace were unable to keep up, shooting 72 and 70 respectively.
McIlroy looked like he was headed down that road as well with a bogey on the first hole. He got it back with a birdie on 3, but could only manage one more before the turn. Trust me, shooting 35 on the front nine was not the way he wanted or needed to score; everyone is going low on this golf course.
But the back nine was a whole other matter. He birdied 11 and 12, eagled 14 and birdied 18 to finish it off. From 1-under to 6-under just like that. Masterful. Particularly when you know that he continues to be sick from too much sun.
Asked if his start was attributable to that, he provided the day’s update:
Yeah, I didn’t have a great night last night. I was up at about four o’clock and had a bit of a fever.
But yeah, not really — I had a really good warmup. I hit the ball good on the range, and I just had a bit of a slow start. But I guess once I got into the round, the heat probably helps a little bit, and the adrenaline of the round, the adrenaline of being in contention gets you through.
Luke Donald, on the other hand, was the model of consistency and efficiency. He made four birdies on the front nine (nobody in the media asked Rory, playing one group back, if he knew or was troubled by being down by three so early in the round). And then Donald made two more birdies on the back nine, 14 and 18, to also shoot 6-under.
But the most impressive streak belongs to Donald. He hasn’t made a bogey in 100 holes on this course. He hasn’t made a bogey through 54 holes, he didn’t make bogey in the last 36 holes from last year’s tournament or in the last 10 holes of the second round. The last time he made a bogey was on the 8th hole in the second round, once again, last year!
McIlroy playfully said: “Well, if you look at it logically, it means he’s due a bogey (laughter). So hopefully, that may be the case.”
But the media was a little more deferential of Donald’s accomplishment:
The television interviews have made a lot of the stat that you’ve played 100 holes without dropping a shot. That’s incredible, when you think that this golf course is not very easy, that’s an incredible statistic.
Yeah, a little hard to fathom even for myself. That’s some good going. I bet my next round is not even close to that, probably something like 40, 50 holes.
Yeah, it’s something I’ll store away in the memory banks and use to my advantage down the road.
And so, as golf fans, we get that rare reward of having these two great, but quite different players in the final group on Sunday. How different? Donald describes one hole where he looked back to see McIlroy’s approach shot:
Obviously Rory, looking back today, he’s hitting it so far right now. Looked like he hit sand iron into the 12th today and I hit 6‑iron. So it’s a different golf course for us.
And he also described how he would counter McIlroy’s length:
You can’t get too complacent. Obviously this is a course that can throw out some low scores, and some great players behind Rory and I. For me, it’s more about just playing my game again. But you know, obviously I know how to play to my own strengths and that’s what I’ll be concentrating on.
For his part, here’s what McIlroy had to say about whether he was going to treat this as a match play situation:
You just have to concentrate on yourself and not think about what he’s doing. And if that means giving yourself a target number to go at, then you do that; or, just go and play one hole at a time.
But there’s no point in trying to make it into a match play sort of scenario, because there’s still a few guys behind us that could get off to a fast start and get right back in the tournament.
I’ve got to concentrate on myself and try and shoot the best score that I can and hopefully that will be good enough at the end of the day.
And they would both do well to concentrate on their own games and going as low as they can; South Africans Charl Schwartzel and Louis Oosthuizen are just three strokes back at 14-under par.
And in a sleight of hand only made possible by the fact that Dubai is in a distant time zone, Sunday’s round is well underway, McIlroy and Donald have yet to start, but Pablo Larrazabal is already 4-under through just the 8th hole.
The implication of that? It could take a very low score to prevail. It should be a good day for fans of masterful golf, fans of a great dual in the desert.