Young leads by two but McIlroy storms into contention at $9m HERO Dubai Desert Classic

Northern Irishman shoots a career-best equalling 63 to tie for second with Dubai-based Meronk heading into Sunday's final round

By Nick Tarratt /' Khaleej Times Guest Golf Writer

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Rory McIlroy now has his eye on history after a spectacular third round in the HERO Dubai Desert Classic. - KT Photo by Shihab
Rory McIlroy now has his eye on history after a spectacular third round in the HERO Dubai Desert Classic. - KT Photo by Shihab

Published: Sat 20 Jan 2024, 8:45 PM

Cameron Young will take a two-shot lead into the final round of the $9 million HERO Dubai Desert Classic on Sunday but the American will have to contend with a resurgent Rory McIlroy who stormed back into contention with a stunning nine-under 63 at the Emirates Golf Club on the DP World Tour.

Young entered the championships rounds with a three-shot advantage but found himself one back as he turned in 37, with three-time champion McIlroy setting the target at 12 under after rattling in seven birdies and a spectacular eagle on the 18th.

Although the day almost entirely belonged to McIlroy, who is now on the cusp of making history in the HERO Dubai Desert Classic by becoming the first player in the 35-year history of the event as the first four-time winner, Young held his never to recover from a jarring front nine to sign for a 71and a three-day total of 202.

The World Number 25 and New York native, managed to find another gear on the back nine, however, carding three birdies to get to 14 under in the first Rolex Series event of the season.

Cameron Young of the U.S. plays his second shot on the 14th hole during the third round of the HERO Dubai Desert Classic. - AP
Cameron Young of the U.S. plays his second shot on the 14th hole during the third round of the HERO Dubai Desert Classic. - AP

He could have been further ahead, such was the quality of his iron play after the turn, but he will now go out with McIlroy in round four on Sunday, with Dubai-based Pole Adrian Meronk alongside the Northern Irishman after a hard-earned 70.

Dane Rasmus Højgaard and China's Li Haotong, the opening-round leader and former champion, were then three shots further back, one ahead of Chilean Joaquin Niemann.

After a shaky start on day one, Young finished birdie-birdie-eagle to share the lead and looked in complete control as he carded a second-round 64.

His front nine woes continued on day three but he is 14 under for the week after the turn and will now go in search of a first DP World Tour win in wire-to-wire fashion after finishing second at the 2022 Open Championship and 2023 WGC - Dell Technologies Match Play.

Dubai-based Pole Adrian Meronk is tied for second with Rory McIlryoy with 18-holes to play at the Emirates Golf Club on Sunday. - KP Photo by Shihab
Dubai-based Pole Adrian Meronk is tied for second with Rory McIlryoy with 18-holes to play at the Emirates Golf Club on Sunday. - KP Photo by Shihab

“It would be a nice feeling (to win),” said Young, who is also yet to record a victory on the PGA Tour but is a former Rookie of the Year.

"It's one of those times that you feel kind of at peace with what you've done and it's something I would love to do tomorrow (Sunday). I've put myself in another great place to have a chance and I'm happy with that.

“So, if I go out and go through the process that we've kind of set up for tomorrow and see what happens,” he added. “I didn't putt quite as well as I have the last few days and with a little bit more wind, it wasn't that easy. I think all in all, it was a good battle.”

McIlroy started the day ten back but got going with a brilliant shot from the rough to two feet at the first and while he missed out at the gettable second, he got up and down for birdie at the par-five third.

Fans followed Rory McIlry during his stunning third round at the Emirates Golf Club on Saturday. - KT Photo by Shihab
Fans followed Rory McIlry during his stunning third round at the Emirates Golf Club on Saturday. - KT Photo by Shihab

A golden patch then followed with his irons as he put a tee shot to seven feet at the seventh, an approach to similar range at the eighth and a towering eight iron to five feet at the ninth to turn in 30.

The 34-year-old had birdied the par-five tenth and 13th on days one and two and he took advantage again with an up-and-down and a two-putt but better was to come.

He was just off the green in two at the par-five last with a lot of fringes to get through but took out the putter and rolled home a 45-foot left-to-righter for eagle to send the bumper crowds wild.

At that point, he was still two behind Young, who had earlier extended his advantage to four shots thanks to a beautiful approach to 11 feet at the first.

The Tournament Town at the Emirates Golf Club turned on the entertainment. - KT Photo by Shihab
The Tournament Town at the Emirates Golf Club turned on the entertainment. - KT Photo by Shihab

But as McIlroy was completing his round, Young was finding water at the seventh for a double-bogey that would leave him in a share of the top spot.

McIlroy was alone at the top as Young failed to get up and down on the eighth but after a disappointing three-putt par on the tenth, a beautiful tee-shot to ten feet at the 11th had the overnight leader sharing the summit.

He then put a remarkable second from 256 yards to seven fee

t at the 13th and while he had to settle for a birdie and missed further good chances at the 14th and 16th, he drove over the back of the par-four 17th and got up and down for another gain.

“It’s a combination of the course and the way the course is set up,” he said of his performance. “If you play very, very well, it enables you to go low. But if you are just slightly off, you can feel you have played well but shoot the scores I did on the first two days, 71-70.

There was even things to do for adults and fun seekers during the HERO Dubai Desert Classic. - KT Photo by Shihab
There was even things to do for adults and fun seekers during the HERO Dubai Desert Classic. - KT Photo by Shihab

“But when you are behind, having a course set up like this where the misses are penal and the greens are firm, it gives guys a chance from the pack to shoot a good score.”

Meronk made the most of the second and third with smart up-and-downs but gave the shots back at the fifth and ninth before birdieing the tenth with two putts and making a gain from the sand at the 13th.

Li carded a 69, one shot fewer than Højgaard, while Niemann signed for a 67 to sit a shot ahead of English pair Alex Fitzpatrick and Tommy Fleetwood and Dane Thorbjørn Olesen.

The leaders will be out last at 12.39 pm in two-balls – with McIlroy and Young. The first tee time is at 7 am.

Third Round Leaders

Young (US) 67. 64. 71. 202.

McIlroy (NI) 71. 70. 63. 204.

Meronk (Pol) 68. 66. 70. 204.

Li (China) 67. 71. 69. 207.

Hojgaard (Den) 67. 70. 70. 207


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