Rory McIlroy wasted a glorious opportunity to win a third Dubai Desert Classic title in a gripping conclusion that saw Viktor Hovland edge Richard Bland in a play-off.

After making steady progress up the leaderboard on Friday and Saturday, McIlroy had a share of the lead alongside Hovland and Bland heading into the final hole on Sunday.

But the four-time major winner, aiming to add to his 2009 and 2015 triumphs in Dubai, sent his approach shot from 267 yards way right on the 18th and it ended in the water.

McIlroy gave himself hope by chipping a shot within 15 feet of the hole to remain on course for par, but his stroke brushed the cup and left him 11-under for the tournament.

That put him a stroke behind Hovland and Bland, who carded a six-under 66 and four-under 68 for the day respectively to finish level and take the competition to an extra hole at the Emirates Golf Club.

Hovland finished strongly with two birdies and an eagle on the final three holes to set the clubhouse lead, which Bland matched with two birdies in a row to conclude his round.

It was Hovland who prevailed in the first play-off hole, the Norwegian rolling in a three-footer for par after Bland's bogey opened the door.

The 24-year-old has now won three of his last five events, having also prevailed at the Hero World Challenge and Mayakoba Golf Classic towards the end of 2021.

Hovland started the day six strokes behind overnight leader Justin Harding, who endured a poor final round, which included a triple-bogey on the 11th to finish in joint-fourth.

"This is pretty wild. I didn't really think this was possible going into today," Hovland said.

"I knew I had to shoot a really low number but a lot of things had to go my way and I am thankful that they did."

Rory McIlroy remains in contention to win the Dubai Desert Classic for a third time after moving to within two shots of leader Justin Harding ahead of the final round.

The four-time major winner shot up the leaderboard into a share of fifth place on Friday, four behind Harding, and halved that deficit with a three-under 69 third round on Saturday.

McIlroy, who previously won the tournament as a 19-year-old in 2009 and again in 2015, initially struggled to make up ground as he found himself just one under after nine holes.

An eagle at the par-five 10th breathed fresh life into the Northern Irishman's round, though he balanced out a couple of birdies with two bogeys in a rather mixed back nine.

But the former world number one is now 10 under for the tournament and hot on the heels of Harding, who added to his opening rounds of 65 and 68 with a one-under 71.

"I think it was a fair reflection of how I played," McIlroy said. "There were a couple of good things and a couple of bad things in there, but I feel like it all evened out by the end.

"It was nice to birdie the last, shoot something in the 60s and play myself into the last group tomorrow.

"I think as well, this late in the day, it starts to get hard to hole putts on the greens because they're a little crusty and got progressively faster as the day went on.

"I started to putt a little more defensively on the back nine. All of that leads to a pretty challenging day."

McIlroy's Ryder Cup team-mate Tommy Fleetwood is a shot further back after recovering from back-to-back bogeys at the fifth and sixth to move to nine under.

Erik van Rooyen also trails Harding by three shots, while Paul Casey, Tyrrell Hatton, Bernd Wiesberger, Richard Bland, Adrian Meronk and Fabrizio Zanotti are four off the pace.

Hatton started round three in second place, but he lacked consistency on Saturday and was made to pay for a double-bogey at the 15th when finding the water.

Shane Lowry enjoyed the lowest-scoring round of the day at the Majlis Course with 68, despite a double-bogey at the ninth, though he is way down in joint-23rd. 

Rory McIlroy predicted he would enjoy the weekend at the Dubai Desert Classic after a 66 on day two moved him firmly into contention.

The former world number one vaulted up the leaderboard into a share of fifth place, following up a steady 71 with a bogey-free round containing four birdies and an eagle.

A two-time winner of this tournament, having been champion as a 19-year-old in 2009 and again in 2015, McIlroy has happy memories and there could be more cause to celebrate come Sunday.

He moved to seven under par through 36 holes, putting him just four shots behind the leader, Justin Harding of South Africa, who added a 68 to his opening 65.

England's Tyrrell Hatton sits second on nine under after matching McIlroy's score. Nobody beat 66 in the second round, with Germany's Nicolai von Dellingshausen also making the same score, in his case atoning for an opening 77 to reach a share of 38th place.

South African Erik van Rooyen and Paraguayan Fabrizio Zanotti share second on eight under par, with McIlroy one shot back in a group that also includes England's Richard Bland, Norway's Viktor Hovland, Adrian Meronk of Poland, and the first-round leader Joachim B Hansen, who had four bogeys and four birdies in a level-par 72. Tommy Fleetwood, Lee Westwood and Paul Casey were all on six under.

McIlroy chipped in for eagle at 13, while leader Harding, who began on the back nine, holed from 183 yards at the par-four sixth.

There was satisfaction but also frustration for McIlroy after his round, as he said: "It could have been way lower. I certainly hit the ball good enough for it to be a few shots lower. I hit the ball as good as I've done in a long time, and it could have been a few better, but 66 is a good score and sets me up for a nice weekend."

McIlroy said he had been making technical alterations to his swing on the range, and added: "I thought I hit my irons a lot better today and was in control of the driver a bit better too."

To his frustration, McIlroy has not won a major since reaching four big ones in 2014, but he had two victories on the PGA Tour last year and was firmly in the hunt for the DP World Tour Championship in November until a closing 74 scuppered his chances.

The Northern Irishman tied for 12th last week at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, enjoying a strong weekend after only just making the cut. This time he is in a better position from which to strike, and he likes his game at the moment.

"I think with how I ended last year, I certainly found something. I got a little bit of momentum, I won on the PGA Tour and had a really good chance to win here in Dubai at the end of last season," McIlroy said speaking to the DP World Tour website.

"But it feels good. There are so many ebbs and flows in this game and the career's so long that it's hard to compare one season to the next, and how you're feeling and how you're hitting it. But looking back on my last 12 or 14 years, the body of work is there.

"I've played well when I haven't felt so good and I've played poorly when I've felt really good. So it's just a matter of keep showing up each and every day and try your best and try to put the lowest score possible on the scorecard and move on."

Sergio Garcia made a positive start to his year as a five-under-par 67 put him among the front-runners at the Dubai Desert Classic.

Spaniard Garcia had just two top-10 finishes on the European Tour last season, but one of those came at this event, and he showed his liking for the tournament he won in 2017 with another sparkling round.

It was not enough for the lead, with Denmark's Joachim B Hansen ahead of the field thanks to an impressive 65 that featured birdies at four of the first five holes.

Garcia held a share of third place through 18 holes, with South African Justin Harding nudging up to second on six under through 17 holes before darkness forced him to delay completing his round until Friday.

It was as a 19-year-old in 1999 that Garcia first won on the European Tour, which has been renamed as the DP World Tour this season, with that breakthrough triumph coming at the Irish Open.

He was a champion twice on the tour that year, landed six victories in the 2000s and added eight European Tour titles in the 2010s, including a Masters victory, which counted to his win list on both sides of the Atlantic.

Now, at the age of 42, Garcia is bidding to win on the tour in a fourth successive decade, and this was a strong start, as he made five birdies and did not drop a shot.

"It was good. I think obviously it got a little bit more challenging the last couple of holes with left-to-right wind," he said. "I made a couple of nice par saves at the right times and kept it in play for the most part. I hit a good amount of greens and when I didn't, my chipping and putting was there to help me. So that was good."

In an interview on the European Tour website, Garcia added: "I still have a lot of things I want to achieve. I want to keep trying, to get better, challenge myself to improve. That's never easy and as you get older it's obviously tougher, but I'll work hard and hopefully keep fighting."

Garcia had company on five under from fellow Spaniard Pablo Larrazabal, as well as Englishman Tommy Fleetwood, Italy's Andrea Pavan, Thailand's Thongchai Jaidee and Paraguayan Fabrizio Zanotti.

Open champion Collin Morikawa was in a group on four under, with defending Dubai champion Paul Casey two shots further back. Rory McIlroy was three under par through five holes of his round, having started on the back nine, but he fell away to a one-under 71 for a share of 46th place.

Paul Casey won by four shots at the Dubai Desert Classic to claim his 15th European Tour title.

The world number 27 led by one stroke heading into the final round and carded a two-under par 70 on Sunday to finish clear of closest challenger Brandon Stone. 

European Ryder Cup hopeful Casey was given a scare by Robert MacIntyre, who had a share of the lead at one point, before four successive bogeys put him out of contention.

Casey enjoyed a strong back nine that included a two-putt birdie on the par-five 18th hole to card 271 overall for the tournament.

Stone bogeyed three of his first seven holes but recovered as the day went on to leapfrog MacIntyre into second spot, finishing one shot better off than the Scotsman.

Victory for Casey is his first since the European Open in September 2019. It takes the 43-year-old ahead of Rory McIlroy on the all-time list of European Tour successes, and level with Thomas Bjorn and Padraig Harrington. 

"It's very, very special," Casey said. "Dubai has been so good to tour, but to golf around the world as well has been so cool. I've worked so hard.

"I'm hoping for a lot of good stuff for the rest of the season. I feel like I've regained my youth; I mean that sincerely. I'm so happy."

Further down the standings, Laurie Canter finished in a tie with Kalle Samooja for fourth place, while Harrington's final-round 70 saw him share sixth place with Bernd Wiesberger and Sergio Garcia.

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