Rory McIlroy hunting hat trick of titles at the Emirates: Dubai Desert Classic final round preview

The Northern Irishman heads in the final round at the Emirates GC alone in second and two shots behind the leader Justin Harding.

In a funny sort of way Rory McIlroy's two career victories in the Slync.io Dubai Desert Classic acted as bookends to his career sweet spot.

The first of those triumphs was his maiden professional title, way back in 2009, and the second kicked off 2015, far from a bad year for him, but the season before he had won two Major Championships - and he has not, of course, won another since then.

Maybe winning a third title on the Majlis Course at the Emirates Club might herald a second rich vein of golf at the highest level for the Northern Irishman?

A little fanciful and pure guesswork, no doubt. Far simpler and more down-to-earth to just win the thing, then see what happens.

To do so he will need to overhaul the leader Justin Harding. The South African doubled his lead to two strokes with a third round of 71 on Saturday.

He needed to grind, but he did so in some style to compile a total of 12-under 204 that left him clear of McIlroy, alone in second after a 69, and three ahead of Tommy Fleetwood (71) and Erik Van Rooyen (69).

McIlroy revealed afterwards that he's feeling a little added motivation this week.

"I'm excited," he said. "Had a really good chance in 2018 and let it slip through my fingers there when Haotong Li won. It's good to give myself another opportunity.

"It was a bit of a battling day. I think everyone felt the same thing. It's tricky out there, a bit of breeze, firm greens, pins are tucked away, chipping on to those firm greens, is tricky.

"So there's a lot of tactics out there, just sort of A to B and trying to put yourself in the right spots. Overall, I thought anything in the 60s today was a good score."

Notions of a third tournament win heralding a new chapter might be peering too far in the future, but there is no doubt that a win would bolster the confidence.

Can McIlroy's chase Harding down? Let's take a look at the numbers and the leading contenders.

Majlis course trends

Winners here tend to be up with the pace after 54 holes. In fact, only two of the last 24 winners was not within three blows of the lead at this stage.

One of those was Tiger Woods (possibly the greatest golfer in history) and the other was Lucas Herbert, who was granted a helping hand by strong winds on the final day which blew the leaders off course.

In all, 20 of the 24 winners were within two shots of the lead after three rounds which only goes to further emphasise the advantage of being at the top end of the leaderboard.

Justin Harding - leader on 12-under

His case is full of mixed messages. On the one hand, he's been superb all week (65-68-71), finished tied seventh on his debut here in 2019, carded a final round 63 that year, and was in contention through the first 54 holes last year.

On the other hand, his last two fourth round scores here have been 75 and 76, and the last two times he has led an event (by three and four shots) he carded 73 and 77 to drop down the leaderboard.

He said: "At the end of the day, I've just got to go out and keep doing what I'm doing, make a couple of birdies and shoot 70, 69, something like that, and make them shoot 5- or 6-under par. If they do, all credit to them. Just another day at the office, really, to be fair."

Rory McIlroy - solo second on 10-under

He arrived in the knowledge that his last eight visits to the course had all reaped top 10 finishes and looks set to make it nine in a row. The two wins came when he already led, with decent leads too.

He's been a good chaser from second place in recent times, lifting the trophy four times in the last five occurences.

He said: "There was a great atmosphere out there today. Hopefully another great atmosphere tomorrow. I've played in a lot of final groups here, so it's nothing new to me at this point and I'm excited for it. It would be nice to get another win here in Dubai. But it's obviously nice to get a win anywhere early in the season."

Tommy Fleetwood - tied third on 9-under

Barring a disaster he'll log a fifth consecutive top 20 at the tournament, but will it be a career best? He's looking to improve on tied sixth in 2018. He's gone sub-par just twice in eight Sunday circuits of the course.

He said: "I'm trying to get my game back where I want it to be, which is much more of a long-term sort of project. I've got a chance to do it under a bit more pressure now. Excited to test all aspects of my game in contention and it will be nice to have the juices flowing and see where it leads."

Erik Van Rooyen - tied third on 9-under

Returned to DP World Tour action for the Desert Swing with a PGA Tour victory in his CV and has made a huge improvement in his Emirates returns. Previously he had broken 73 just twice in six laps. This week he has already gone 69-67-71.

He said: "I think in a setup like this, if you can just hang in with nine holes to go, there's three par-5s on the back nine, and 17, anything can happen, 18, anything can happen. So, make sure you're in the mix with nine to go and you're right in it."

Conclusion

This looks a golden opportunity for McIlroy. That said, he spurns plenty of them so it's far from a given.

READ MORE: Farmers Insurance Open final round preview: Jon Rahm digs deep and is feeling US Open vibes

Latest news