McIl­roy’s ‘per­fect’ shot up­stages Race to Dubai ti­tle bat­tle

The Saratogian (Saratoga, NY) - - SPORTS -

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMI­RATES (AP) » Out of the run­ning for the Race to Dubai ti­tle, Rory McIl­roy still forced his way onto cen­ter stage at the sea­son-end­ing World Tour Cham­pi­onship on Thurs­day by pro­duc­ing one of his great­est shots of the year.

McIl­roy flushed a 3-wood from 291 yards with his se­cond shot at the par-5 18th hole on the Earth Course, the ball set­tling five feet from the cup. He rolled in the ea­gle putt for an 8-un­der 64, leav­ing the sec­on­dranked McIl­roy a stroke off the lead held by ail­ing French­man Mike Loren­zoVera.

“As soon as I hit it, I knew it was per­fect,” the four-time ma­jor cham­pion said, adding it was “pos­si­bly the best shot I’ve hit all year.”

It was McIl­roy’s best round at an event he won in 2012 and 2015. Even if he makes it three vic­to­ries in eight years in Dubai, it still won’t be enough for him to be crowned Europe’s No. 1 player.

Five play­ers are still in con­tention for that honor, and Jon Rahm made the best start of the quin­tet by shoot­ing a bo­gey-free, 6-un­der 66 to move into third place, three strokes be­hind Lorenzo-Vera.

Rahm last played com­pet­i­tively in early Oc­to­ber at the Open de Es­pana — a tour­na­ment he won by five shots — and said he barely touched a club for five of the past six weeks he took off in the long­est break of his ca­reer.

“I could tell how rested

I was men­tally be­cause on some holes I never lost pa­tience, I never re­ally got down on my­self and stayed with that pos­i­tive at­ti­tude,” said Rahm, who is known for his fiery tem­per­a­ment on the course. “I’m hop­ing I can keep play­ing solid and keep it for the next three days.

“It was hard to get into that rou­tine again but once I came to the tour­na­ment, you kind of switch, you get to the tour­na­ment, you get to grind­ing.”

Rahm needs a win this week to stand a chance of tak­ing the Race to Dubai ti­tle for the first time. As does Tommy Fleet­wood, who was happy with his start, too.

Fleet­wood, win­ner of the Ned­bank Chal­lenge in

South Africa last week, be­gan his round by hol­ing out from 153 yards for ea­gle on No. 1 and shot 67 for a tie for fourth place.

“You can only put your­self out of it on day one,” said Fleet­wood, who is se­cond in the Race to Dubai stand­ings and is look­ing to cap­ture the ti­tle for the se­cond time in three years. “There’s a lot more to do. There’s 54 holes now. There are great play­ers up there and all I can do is do my stuff. I’ve got three days of work left re­ally un­til the end of the year. Just make the most of them.”

Of the other Race to Dubai con­tenders, Bernd Wies­berger shot 70 and was tied for 14th place, Matt Fitz­patrick shot 71, and Shane Lowry shot 73.

Wies­berger leads the race and will lift the tro­phy if he wins in Dubai or fin­ishes alone in se­cond place.

“I’m just think­ing 72-hole tour­na­ment this week. I’m not try­ing to look at what is hap­pen­ing,” said Wies­berger, who has won three tour­na­ments this year in a strong re­turn from seven months out with a wrist in­jury. “I can’t con­trol what Tommy, Matt, Shane and Jon are do­ing.”

Fleet­wood knows a win, cou­pled with Wies­berger fin­ish­ing lower than out­right se­cond, will be enough to be Europe’s No. 1 again. The same sce­nario faces third-place Rahm, who won the World Tour Cham­pi­onship in 2017 and placed fourth last year.

KAMRAN JEBREILI - THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Rory McIl­roy of North­ern Ire­land watches his ball on the 3rd hole dur­ing the first round of the DP World Tour Cham­pi­onship golf tour­na­ment in Dubai, United Arab Emi­rates, Thurs­day, Nov. 21, 2019.

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