Abu Dhabi Championship: McIlroy, Pieters headline loaded leaderboard into Sunday

McIlroy has yet to win at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, and has not won anywhere since the Tour Championship in September 2016, a fallow run that - while it has myriad caveats - is no doubt gnawing at the world No 11. "Not just for this week but for the rest of the season". I feel like I've played around with it a little bit, and the results are showing. I felt like this is where my game was in practice, but it's always different trying to go from the range on to the golf course, and even in practice rounds. Winning would mean a lot. I've never won on my first start back out.

No matter how he fares on the final day, McIlroy is satisfied his game is in good working order after the break.

Asked what his plan for Sunday was, McIlroy said: "Just go out and try and shoot the best score I possibly can".

Detry is on 14 under alongside last week's BMW SA Open victor Chris Paisley, who finished strongly with three birdies over the final four holes for a 66, and Andrew Johnston, who displayed further evidence of his return to form with a 66. "I've got it out of the way, and I'm not thinking about it anymore". With the way he's been playing this week, though, it would take a courageous man to bet against him going one better and starting his 2018 season with a bang.

He added: "You know, it's a real amusing one for me today because I don't feel like tee-to-green I played that well".

Rory McIlroy need not have bothered expressing a belief of being "rejuvenated and refocused". "Even though I wasn't playing great, I knew how well I was putting and I felt if I could just give myself those chances on the greens, I could make the putts, basically".

EurAsia Cup team-mates Pieters and Fisher share the lead in the capital, the big-hitting Belgian adding four front-nine birdies to a flawless 65 on Friday to remain ahead of the chasing pack. "We'll go out there tomorrow and hopefully have more fun".

Fisher, like Pieters, turned in 32 to keep tabs on the leaders, and caught Pieters at the top when he converted a 20 footer on the 14th.

Rory McIlroy marched the fairways of Abu Dhabi Golf Club Saturday with that fighter pilot stride of his, with that confident little bob in his step that you see when he is in command of his full arsenal of shots.

Jorge Campillo of Spain trailed Pieters by one shot after a 64.

McIlroy, returning to professional golf after a lay-off of almost 100 days, gave himself plenty of chances in his first 17 holes, but converted only four birdies. "I just holed every putt and I felt so comfortable on the greens". That's what's nice. I'm back in the tournament and it's something at the start of the year that I wanted to do is contend more. "I think it will be tough to beat".

"Elsewhere in the field, Belgium's Thomas Detry made a significant jump up the leader-board and will head into the final round two shots back in tied-fourth after an impressive eight-under round of 64".

  • Rosalie Stanley