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30 January 2018, 01:00 | Ken Black
Donaldson mixed four birdies with a sole bogey in his second round
Li, who won the 2016 China Open and finished third at last year's Open Championship, becomes the first Asian victor of the event and earned the biggest victory of his career.
There has been so much to admire about the four-times major champion's return to competitive action during two Middle East events played in 40 under.
"Birdieing 10 and going two ahead there with Li making bogey, I thought I was obviously in the driver's seat", McIlroy said in an interview with the European Tour.
A victor of that event and twice runner-up on the European Tour, Li certainly has the credentials and ability to complete the victory tomorrow but with McIlroy appearing close to his best he will face a big task at holding the Northern Irishman at bay. Then another mental mistake with a tentative three putt at the 13th.
Saturday saw the completion of the delayed second round and round three, McIlroy moving into the 36 hole lead when completing his morning work and at that point was one ahead of Jamie Donaldson and two ahead of Li. But this one will definitely hurt for a couple of days. After that shift in momentum to start the back nine, McIlroy should have capitalised. "Those were the two key holes of the tournament, even though there was a bad tee shot on 16".
It was turning out to be a sort of a dream comeback for the Northern Irishman after he finished tied for third at the Abu DHabi HSBC Championship in Abu Dhabi and slow-burning his way into contention for the Omega Dubai Desert Classic. I kept leaving myself in places where I couldn't really give it a run at the hole because they were downhill, downgrain, downwind.
It appeared the pivotal moment until a desperately poor McIlroy bogey at the 11th - as he said, from out of nowhere. "But tried until the very end, made two good birdies".
"I had to make that transition from Asia to Europe and I was trying to play in as many events as I could". I think I wouldn't.the competitor in me is very disappointed right now. Some people won't be happy with me, but hey, I don't mind if I win the Masters. I just need to figure out how to play the front a bit better. "Having two close calls the first couple of weeks of the year, it's a little hard".
"The first hole I made bogey and got to come back really quick, which was good".
McIlroy has now finished third and second in his two starts since calling an early end to an injury-plagued and winless 2017 campaign, but will rue his wayward drive on the 16th among an otherwise fine display from the tee.
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