The 24-year-old Scot, who is bidding for a second European Tour victory in six starts, showed real character in an “eventful” third circuit on the Majlis Course at Emirates Golf to set up a chance to join the likes of Seve Ballesteros, Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Colin Montgomerie as winners of the ‘Major in the Middle East’.
MacIntyre, who started the day a shot behind Belgian Thomas Detry after opening rounds of 67-68, followed a birdie from close range at the second by chipping in for an eagle-3 at the third.
That fast start catapulted him into the lead, but, after dropping a shot at the short fourth, he then ran up a double-bogey 6 at the fifth.
His reaction to that wobble, though, is exactly why European captain Padraig Harrington is keen for the left-hander from Oban to be on his team for the Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits in September.
He rolled in a 15-footer for a birdie at the sixth, holed from nearly 40 feet down the slope for a 2 at the seventh before adding further gains at the 10th, 13th and 17th coming home.
That added up to a 67 for a 14-under-par total, leaving the 2019 Rookie of the Year a shot behind Englishman Casey as he bids to back up a breakthrough win in the Cyprus Showdown in November with a much bigger victory in the UAE.
“Eventful,” replied MacIntyre, smiling, to being asked to describe his day in an interview on Sky Sports Golf afterwards.
“I played great golf again. I controlled my golf ball as good as I have all week. The wind was up more today and, yeah, I was patient. I committed to every shot.
“Ths year it’s been drilled in to me by many people, accept what comes, just control what you can control and it is working well.”
MacIntyre tied for eighth on his debut in this event 12 months ago, but he believes his confidence has soared since then, saying of that:“It’s as high as it’s ever been.
“I’m driving it great. The 3-wood and 5-wood, both new clubs in the bag, they’ve been absolutely brilliant, and I really am striking the irons as good as I did late last year.”
Casey came out on top when the pair battled it out in the final round of the Porsche European Open in Germany in MacIntyre’s rookie season in 2019.
With 20 worldwide wins under his belt, the Englishman will be tough to beat again, having finished birdie-eagle to move into pole position, but MacIntyre is relishing the challenge.
“I’m looking forward to tomorrow and see what it brings,” the world No 52 said. Asked what his gameplan would be, he added: “Same as I always do, go for it. I’m not going to hang about. I’m putting everything on the line, whether it is good or bad. Hopefully it is going to be good tomorrow.
“I’ve just got to enjoy it again. It’s another experience I want to get. It’s something not many people at my age get the chance to do. I’ll give it everything I’ve got.”
Woods and McIlroy are both two-time winners along with Stephen Gallacher, with other names on the iconic coffee pot trophy including Ernie Els.
“It would be unbelievable,” admitted MacIntyre of having a chance to join that club. “But there’s still a long way to go.
“I’m just focused on the tee shot off the first tomorrow and, if that goes well, we’re on to a good yin.”
Casey chipped in at the 17th before hitting a “perfect 3-iron” to around 15 feet at the last as he signed for a 64, which matched the best score of the week.
That late flourish earned him a slender advantage over MacIntyre, with South African and 2018 Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open champion Brandon Stone a shot further back after a 66.
Sergio Garcia, the 2017 winner, is still in the hunt on 10-under, two ahead of former US Open champion Justin Rose, with a big group on seven-under including Harrington, Shane Lowry, Lee Westwood, Tommy Fleetwood and Scott Jamieson.
“Really enjoyable round of golf,” said word No 27 Casey of his effort. “I've won just down the road,” he added of a success in the 2009 Abu Dhabi Championship.
“I've never won in Dubai. Dubai has given so much to golf, especially the European Tour, so yeah, that would be very, very cool. But there's a long way to go yet.”
Stone, of course, closed with a 60 at Gullane when landing his Scottish Open success and, though currently outside the world’s top 200 after a dip in form, the 27-year-old is gradually getting his game back.
”I felt very calm and collected all day,” he said after signing for an eagle and five birdies. “I hit the ball fantastically well. I felt like I was putting for birdie on almost every hole, so whenever that's the case, you're always going to figure like there's a low number in you.”
On having a chance to join three-time champion Els on the roll of honour, he added: “You want to be winning the best tournaments, and I've given myself the opportunity to do that tomorrow.”
Jamieson carded five birdies in his 68 to sit joint-10th, with Grant Forrest (71) lying in a tie for 42nd on two-under but Richie Ramsay dropping to 67th on three-over after a 76.
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