DUBAI (Reuters) - Briton Danny Willett shot a sparkling third-round 65 to lead the Dubai Desert Classic on Saturday and Rory McIlroy stayed in contention to retain his title with a late surge.
The world number two conjured up six birdies over the closing holes to finish on eight under par, eight strokes behind Willett and seven adrift of Spain’s Rafael Cabrera-Bello.
Briton Andy Sullivan was a shot back in third, one ahead of Dutchman Joost Luiten.
Willett, runner-up to McIlroy in last season’s Race to Dubai, fired a second successive 65 at Emirates Golf Club to move to 16 under par, sinking a superb 30-foot eagle putt at the 13th.
“I kept the ball under fantastic control with some crosswinds, did everything right really. A couple of hiccups in there today where it could have been a little different and kept the head on and kept moving forward,” the 28-year-old told the European Tour website.
“I think mentally I feel like I‘m very much in control of myself, which obviously helps.”
A double-bogey on the ninth looked to have ended McIlroy’s victory hopes but the Northern Irishman birdied three of his last four holes for a 68 that give him an outside chance of winning the tournament for the third time.
South African Ernie Els, like McIlroy a four-times major champion, struggled in a round of 74 and finished on seven under par.
Reporting by Ed Osmond, editing by Clare Fallon