Game, Set and Match: Day Three at the Dubai World Championship
By Conor Nagle under European PGA Tour

Life's a beach: McIlroy out of position during Saturday's third round.

“It’s over.”

That was Rory McIlroy’s rather frank assessment of his tournament prospects after carding an untidy 71 in this morning’s third round of the European Tour’s season-ending Gulf showpiece.

The Northerner, reported to be suffering from a mild form of exhaustion, failed to take advantage of near-perfect scoring conditions at the Earth course, limping to the turn in 39 strokes.

Though a series of birdies on the back nine (a reversal of fortune that coinciding with the appearance of Caroline Wozniacki) would subsequently return McIlroy to the top ten, by that stage irreparable damage had been done to his hopes of capturing both the tournament and the Race to Dubai title.

If the form of the reigning US Open champion has been deteriorating slowly since Thursday, that of World Number One Luke Donald has been improving rapidly.

His third-round 66, a typically flawless display of sensible course management and putting prowess, effectively rendered McIlroy’s back nine heroics immaterial.

By day’s end, his 10-under-par total was enough for sole possession of fourth place, a full two shots better than his 23-year-old challenger.

If the arc of the broader narrative can be considered resoved, then, the particulars have yet to be settled.

Alvaro Quiros (70) will enter the final day on an aggregate total of 14-under-par, enough for a two-shot lead over 1999 Open champion Paul Lawrie (66).

The powerful Spaniard, who bracketed his round with untidy bogeys at the first and 18th, enjoyed a five-shot advantage over the Scot with three holes to play, but couldn’t keep pace with Lawrie’s stunning birdie-par-eagle finish.

Louis Oosthuizen (66), who spent Saturday highlighting the extent to which he deserves recognition as a world-beating ball-striker, is alone in third place, a shot adrift of Lawrie.

Conor Nagle