By Matt Smith
Martin Kaymer plundered seven birdies in a third-round 67 in Abu Dhabi on Saturday, moving six strokes clear of Thomas Pieters as Rory McIlroy’s title bid floundered following a desperate day on the greens for the world number one.
German Kaymer is a three-times winner of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship and a fourth title is within his grasp, having gone 36 holes without dropping a shot to stand on 20 under.
He started Saturday on 13 under, two strokes clear of McIlroy, and sank five birdies in eight holes to stretch a lead that was never in jeopardy.
So focused was Kaymer that twice on the back nine he did not even wait for playing partner Pieters to finish putting before marching to the next tee on an overcast, muggy afternoon.
“The main goal (was) to still be leading going to the first tee tomorrow morning,” Kaymer told reporters.
“Even when I missed the fairway, I managed to make up-and-downs. I used a lot of birdie chances that I had. I didn’t miss many putts.”
On the par-five 10th, Kaymer sliced into the sandy rough and his ball stuck in a tree. The German took a drop and scuffed the subsequent wedge into a bunker but – unfazed – he chipped in from 30 yards to save par, punching the air in jubilation.
“I got the right spin, the right yardage and I think it was more luck than skill – that was big for momentum where easily you can bogey, double-bogey,” said the 30-year-old US Open champion.
Kaymer’s approach play was sometimes untidy despite his score and he found sand on three successive holes from the 10th to 12.
Yet his putting was imperious and he picked up another shot on 11 with a 25-footer that left him grinning.
The world number 12 converted a final birdie on 13, a simple tap-in from two feet.
That contrasted with McIlroy’s toils. The four-times major winner could only make two birdies all day despite missing just two fairways and one green in regulation to card a one-under 71
“I hit the ball just as well as I did yesterday, gave myself so many chances and didn’t convert any,” a despondent McIlroy told reporters.
Belgian Pieters (70) is on 202. Austrian Bernd Wiesberger (66) and France’s Alexander Levy (67) are tied for third on 203 with McIlroy one stroke further back.