Li Haotong on unfamiliar ground as he leads Omega Dubai Desert Classic

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China's Li Haotong is the man to catch going into tomorrow's final day. Tyrrell Hatton was among a group of eight players on 14 under.

Englishman Danny Willett endured a hard opening day as he dropped three shots on the eighth and another four on the ninth to finish five-over at the bottom of the leaderboard.

That gave him a two-shot lead at the halfway point but he was unable to maintain that momentum at the start of his third round.

After starting from the 10th tee, Donaldson was bogey-free for his round with an eagle on the par-5 13th and moved to 11-under par after four birdies in a row from the fourth hole onwards. with two holes to play, he had a shot at Ernie Els's 24-year-old course record of 61, and more importantly, a chance to shoot the first-ever 59 on the European Tour.

"The back nine was good, the front nine not so much", said McIlroy, a two-time victor of the tournament, on Sky Sports.

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"Li played really well out there and if he continues to play like that I'll need to shoot something similar to what he shot today".

McIlroy, who returned from a three-month absence owing to a rib injury to finish joint-third in Abu Dhabi last week, hit a bogey-free round to remain in contention. "The quality of the golf was much better, which I was happy with, and to come back in five-under is very nice". I just wanted to go out there and play a good seven holes and hopefully get myself into contention for the last couple of rounds.

Playing partners Henrik Stenson and defending champion Sergio Garcia will start five and seven shots behind after scores of 64 and 69 respectively while last week's victor Tommy Fleetwood had to settle for a second successive 69 to be nine adrift. Despite that, the Frenchman still signed for a 65 after a birdie on the 18th.

Haydn Porteous closed with a trio of birdies to complete a 7-under-par 33-32=65 in the third round of the Omega Duabi Desert Classic at Emirates GC, climbing into tied third spot after 54 holes.

The four-time major champion carded a four-under 68 at Emirates Golf Club, recovering from a slow start to get within a stroke of Haotong Li at the top of the leaderboard.