Another day, another bogey-free round but still Luke Donald could not shake off an under-the-weather Rory McIlroy.
Today’s final round of the European Tour season will see the world’s top two go head-to-head in the last group of the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai.
At 17 under par, after matching third rounds of 66, the pair are three shots clear of South Africans Charl Schwartzel and Louis Oosthuizen who shot 67 and 68 respectively.
Scotland’s Marc Warren, the joint overnight leader with Donald and McIlroy, could only manage a level-par third-round of 72 to remain at 11 under.
Donald is trying to become the first player to win an event on the circuit without dropping a stroke since Jesper Parnevik at the 1995 Scandinavian Masters.
“He must be due one [a bogey],” said McIlroy, who was up at 4am after another rough night with a fever brought on, he believes, by sunstroke.
“Thanks for putting a curse on it,” Donald said when told he was also on a run of 100 holes without a bogey on the Greg Norman-designed Earth course.
They are both looking forward, though, to what should be a “Duel in the Sun” to remember.
McIlroy, having already emulated Donald’s double last year of topping the money lists on both sides of the Atlantic, is going for a fifth victory of 2012 – and it would be worth £1.46 million to him.
Donald, back to second on the world rankings after his win in Japan last Sunday, is trying for a fourth victory of 2012 and that could earn him almost £1.25m if he climbs from eighth to second on the Order of Merit.
But McIlroy was the happier of the two to be on level terms at the end of the day just as they had been at the start of it.
He said: “At one stage he was three or four ahead. I wanted to keep it close but to play like I did on the back nine was great and it’s going to be a very exciting day.
“He’s a phenomenal player. His iron play is probably the best in the world right now and so is his putting. He might not have the length, but he makes up for it.
“I want to win badly, though. I want to finish the year off well and want to be standing on the final green with two trophies.”
One for the tournament and the one for the money list he locked up two weeks ago in Singapore.
He added: “I’m OK. I’ve been taking painkillers throughout the day. I wasn’t feeling great, but I guess the adrenaline keeps you going when playing. It’s the last tournament and I want to give it one last push.”
Donald was impressed by his run without dropping a stroke but not totally surprised by it.
“It’s pretty good, but I guess that’s my style of play. I don’t make too many mistakes,” he said. “It’s going to be fun – great for the crowd and everyone watching around the world. Hopefully we can make some birdies.”
Donald played the front nine much the better, grabbing birdies at the second, third, seventh and ninth. It is on the inward half, though, that the 23-year-old McIlroy has prospered all week and, after turning in 35, he birdied the 11th and 12th and holed a 30-foot eagle putt at the long 14th. The duo then put more distance between themselves and the field at the par five last, both pitching to inside seven feet to set up further birdies.
Warren’s troubles started when he pulled his drive down the long second into bushes, took a penalty drop and ran up a bogey six.
He is now in a tie for seventh. Schwartzel and Oosthuizen went past him by scoring 67 and 68 respectively, while fifth-placed pair Joost Luiten and Branden Grace shot 67 and 70.
Richie Ramsay shot 73 to drop back to eight under, while 72s for Scott Jamieson and Stephen Gallacher left them seven and six under par respectively.
Paul Lawrie at least broke par with a round of 70 but he is languishing back on three under.
When play resumes today, the majority of the fans will have eyes only for the final pair.
“I know my game is different to Rory’s,” added Donald. “He’s a power player and obviously he’s got a great short game as well.
“I can’t go out and try to hit the ball harder or anything like that. I just have to play my own game and not get ahead of myself.”