Rory McIlroy answered those questions about rustiness in emphatic form on Sunday as he romped into a three-stroke lead at the Hero Dubai Desert Classic with one — Monday — round to go.
After all the rain and Patrick-Reed-related drama, the world No. 1 showed his class where it mattered around a Majlis course where he has triumphed twice before, cracking a sensational and near-perfect 65 to take a three-stroke 15-under lead into the last day.
The Northern Irishman left everyone trailing as he racked up four birdies on the trot from the first tee, adding four more on the back nine before another drop in the water on 18 meant a solitary blemish on a brilliant card.
Behind McIlroy are the unlikely duo of Callum Shinkwin and Dan Bradbury on 12-under, with a host of stars including the hot-finishing Ian Poulter, major-champ Patrick Reed and Abu Dhabi HSBC Champ Victor Perez and last year’s playoff loser Richard Bland on 11-under.
But it was all about former Dubai resident McIlroy on Sunday as he stunned the massive crowds with a scorching start and similar finish before meeting the pond that saw his demise 12 months ago as Viktor Hovland took the crown.
The man chasing a third crown in Dubai said: “I got off to a great start with those four birdies in a row. Then hit a little bit of a lull after that. I made a really good par save on 11 that sort of kept my momentum going, and then kick-started again with obviously three nice birdies in a row on 13, 14 and 15.
“It felt like the good golf came in sort of two bursts today, and then the rest of it, it was OK. I held it together. I still don’t feel quite in control of my game.
“I love this golf course. I love this tournament. I’ve won here a couple of times, so tomorrow is a nice opportunity to try to do something that I’ve never done before.
Reed was comfortable after an up-and-down day. “It was a little frustrating,” he said after a third round on a course he is competing on for the first time. “I felt like I actually hit the ball a little better today than I have been recently.
“The weather, the rough: it is all new but there really is no complacency out there. Every guy, even if you’ve played here a thousand times, you know how brutal it is. It’s a demanding golf course.”
Shinkwin said: I wasn’t that great at the start. It was solid but nothing special. Tomorrow is another day. It’s weird playing till Monday but it is what it is. Hopefully go and do the job tomorrow.”