Two past Masters champions – American Patrick Reed and Englishman Danny Willett – moved to the top of the leaderboard in the third round of the DP World Tour Championship on Saturday.
Willett, playing in the final group, shot a four-under par 68 with a solitary bogey to match Reed, who made 66 earlier in the day.
The duo were tied at 14-under par, one better than England’s Jordan Smith, while Lee Westwood, who won the Nedbank Challenge last week, crept to within two shots with a seven-under par 65. He was joined at 12-under par by South African Dean Burmester (68).
The Race to Dubai was virtually decided in favour of Francesco Molinari after his best friend and only rival for the title, Tommy Fleetwood slipped down the leaderboard with a two-over par 74 round.
Fleetwood needs to win the DP World Tour Championship to deny Molinari, but he will start the final round with the near-impossible task of making up eight shots.
“I think you kind of know when your time’s up. I lasted within two days of the season. I feel the adrenaline might have gone now,” Fleetwood said after his round of 74. “I’ll play tomorrow and we’ll see how we do.”
Willett, who has struggled with injuries since winning at Augusta in 2016, did his chances of a first victory since that magic day no harm with a solid round of 68.
After making just one bogey in his round, he said: “My main goal this year was not really a golfing goal, but body-wise. If I could finish the season healthier and fitter than I started the season, I would be somewhere near and that’s exactly what we’ve done.
“This is the sixth out of seven weeks playing golf. We’ve travelled all around the world trying to play a good bit, and it’s nice that my body feels as good now as it ever has, really.
“I am not going to lie, it would be an amazing thing to win, but regardless of what happens, with where my body, mind, golf is and just looking in the long-term of my career, this is pretty good.”
Reed, who made four birdies on his back nine, is hoping to become the first American to win the season-ending championship of the European Tour since it moved to Dubai.
“It feels the same as if I’m back home playing the big events,” he said.
Overnight leader Matt Wallace (71) seemed to be cruising when he reached 14-under after seven holes to open a three-shot lead. But the 28-year-old Englishman made a double bogey from the fairway bunker on the eighth and could not get going after that.
India’s Shubhankar Sharma all but wrapped up the Rookie of the Year honours with a third-round 66 that moved him into a tie for ninth.
If he finishes in the top 20, his closest rivals, Lucas Herbert of Australia and Sam Horsfield of England, would need to finish in the top two. Herbert was tied 51st at 2-over, while Horsfield was tied 32nd at 4-under par.
© Agence France-Presse (additional edits from Chris Kelleher)