Bryson DeChambeau gave himself a great opportunity to win his first title outside the United States by moving into pole position after the penultimate day of the Dubai Desert Classic on Saturday, while Ernie Els stayed in contention.
American DeChambeau, the highest ranked player in the field at world number five, overcame a mid-round hiccup of two consecutive bogeys to shoot a four-under-par 68 and finish on 16-under par at Emirates Golf Club.
That gave him a one-shot advantage over defending champion Li Haotong, who moved to 15-under with his third straight five-under-par 67.
Three-time champion Els (70) showed plenty of patience on a tough scoring day when the greens were playing tricky after drying up in the steady breeze.
The South African veteran was bogey-free and made just two birdies – on the third and 18th holes – to sit tied third alongside England’s Matt Wallace.
There was drama during the round when Australia’s Lucas Herbert (72), joint leader at the start of the day, was imposed a two-shot penalty after using his club to push the sand in a waste area on the third hole.
Herbert was informed of the ruling on the ninth hole and even though he showed remarkable tenacity and birdied his next four holes, he fell back for a tie of fifth place at 12-under.
The 25-year-old DeChambeau was one-over par for his round after a bogey on the eighth hole, but made a long birdie putt on the ninth to make the turn at even par, and then added four more birdies on the back nine.
The frustration of not making a birdie on the par-five 18th, and missing a short birdie putt on the 14th hole, was evident after his round.
“I’m just not 100 per cent with my Golf game right now. I’m still leading, obviously. It’s fantastic. I couldn’t be displeased with that, but my expectation levels are for how I know I can perform, and I feel like I’m underperforming a little bit,” said the man who has won three times in his last eight starts on the PGA Tour.
“I had a couple chances to right the ship and be three or four ahead, but I’m only one ahead. I’ve got a lot of work to do tomorrow.”
Li could become only the second player in the 30-year history of the tournament to successfully defend his title after Scotland’s Stephen Gallacher in 2014. He made seven birdies and two bogeys, including a missed par putt from less than two feet on the par-four 16th hole.
“It would definitely mean a lot (to win again). I just want to play my best out there and tomorrow, hopefully hold the trophy again,” said the 23-year-old world number 43, who closed with successive birdies.
“It was pretty decent today. Actually, my long game was way better than the last couple days. And apart from 16, I putted well too.”
The rejuvenated Alvaro Quiros (71) of Spain looked like joining Li in second place, but wound up with a double bogey after hitting his second shot into the water on the 18th and is tied fifth at 12-under.
European Ryder Cup star Tommy Fleetwood improved to tied 12th at 10-under.
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