Ross Fisher and Thomas Pieters share the lead after three rounds of play at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, with four-time major champion Rory McIlroy just a shot off the pace.
Pieters, the 36-hole leader, remained hot on Saturday morning, making his way through the first nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club at 4 under. But the big-hitting Belgian cooled off a bit on his inward nine with just one birdie against eight pars to finish at 5-under 67.
“I think I played pretty good today. I missed a lot of putts today. Made a couple birdies early, which settled me down,” said Pieters.
“The back nine, I played very good. But yeah, I couldn’t really make a putt. Hit one really close on 16 and 17, 18, pretty disappointing. I didn’t hit many good shots there but it’s still nice to make a par on the last after the mess I made.”
Starting the day two off the lead, Fisher matched playing partner Pieters over the out-nine to turn at 4 under, then caught the Belgian with a 3 under back-nine to sign for a 65. The Englishman has a three-day score of 17-under par, and sits alongside Pieters at the top of the big red board.
“It was another good day. Obviously great fun getting out with Thomas, third day in a row, a lot of fun, a lot of banter. Just trying to hang on, felt like I played solid,” said Fisher.
“Fingers crossed, we’ll be paired again tomorrow, because it’s been three fun, exciting days with Thomas and Adam on the bag. So we’ll go out there tomorrow and hopefully have some more fun.”
McIlroy continued his bogey-free streak through 14 holes on Saturday, until a slip up on the par-3 15th. But the Northern Ireland star offset the deficit, and then some, with a chip-in birdie on 17, and another one on 18, good for 7-under 65, and 14 under for the tournament.
Just one off the lead in his return from a three-month layoff, McIlroy was asked about his strategy for Sunday.
“Go out and try and shoot the best score I possibly can. I felt really comfortable, really relaxed out there,” said McIlroy, currently ranked 11th in the world.
Matt Fitzpatrick, and defending champion Tommy Fleetwood, share fourth on 15 under. Fitzpatrick had the galleries buzzing about a potential 59 after a birdie on No. 12 got him to 9 under with six holes to play. But the Englishman cooled off and finished even-par the rest of the way, settling for a 63.
Fleetwood, meanwhile, continues to play under the radar and finished with a bogey-free 67 – his second flawless round of the tournament.
Andrew Johnston (66) and Branden Grace (67) headline a trio of players at T6 (14 under) and T9 (13 under), respectively. World No. 1 Dustin Johnson shot 4-under 68 and is tied for 12th at 12 under, alongside a group of four others.
Justin Rose posted a 67 to move up to T30 at 7 under, two shots ahead of fellow Olympic medalist Matt Kuchar (70), who sits T44 at 5 under.
TOP 10: ROUND THREE
1 Thomas Pieters -17
1 Ross Fisher -17
3 Rory McIlroy -16
4 Tommy Fleetwood -15
4 Matt Fitzpatrick -15
6 Andrew Johnston -14
6 Chris Paisley -14
6 Thomas Detry -14
9 Branden Grace -13
9 Paul Dunne -13
9 Dylan Frittelli -13
12 Paul Casey -12
12 Dustin Johnson -12
21 Henrik Stenson -8
21 Andy Sullivan -8
21 Tyrrell Hatton -8
30 Justin Rose -7
44 Matt Kuchar -5
TOP SHOTS: TARGET PRACTICE
Paired together in the third round, Englishmen Chris Paisely and Andrew Johnston play closest to the pin with their approach shots on the par-4 9th hole.
“Just go out and try and shoot the best score I possibly can. I felt really comfortable, really relaxed out there.”
– Rory McIlroy
Credits: European Tour Media, Getty Images