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McIlroy leads in Dubai

AP

Golf

Rory McIlroy hit wedge into 5 feet for birdie on the 18th hole for a 2-under 70 to regain the outright lead in the Dubai Desert Classic on Friday.

The chief challenge for McIlroy came from an American — but it wasn’t Tiger Woods.

Brooks Koepka, who earned his European Tour card last year by winning three times on the Challenge Tour, made seven birdies against no bogeys for a 65 that left him one shot behind McIlroy going into the weekend.

Woods, meanwhile, hit only four fairways and had to rely on some key putts to salvage a 73. He was in a tie for 44th, eight shots out of the lead.

McIlroy was at 11-under 133.

He appeared to be in control at Emirates Golf Club, leading by three shots after his birdie at No. 10. But he drove wildly into the waste area on the par-5 13th and the par-4 16th holes, both leading to bogeys, before recovering on the 18th.

“It was nice to birdie the last and at least give myself a one-shot lead going into tomorrow,” McIlroy said. “I will just go back tonight and sort of regroup and realize I am still leading the tournament. I was more frustrated on the back nine, as the back nine is where you want to build your score after playing the harder front nine.”

Danny Willett of England, who began his week by jumping out of a plane at 4,000 meters (13,000 feet), had a 65 and shared third place with Damien McGrane of Ireland (70) and Julien Quesne of France (70).

Woods, trying to join Ernie Els as the only three-time winners of the Dubai Desert Classic, opened with a birdie on his third hole and the highlights were few after that. His only other birdie was on the par-3 11th, with a shot into 2 feet.