ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — Martin Kaymer turned what promised to be an exciting weekend duel with Rory McIlroy into a procession at the Abu Dhabi Championship.
Seeking a fourth title in eight years in Abu Dhabi, Kaymer shot a 7-under 65 in the third round on Saturday to extend his overnight lead from one stroke to six. He moved to 20-under 196 overall — a record-low total here after 54 holes.
The U.S. Open champion’s pace was too hot for McIlroy, whose putting failed to match his tee-to-green play as he shot 71. The top-ranked McIlroy cut a forlorn figure at the end of his round, having dropped eight shots behind Kaymer and going from third place into a share of fifth.
“I feel like punching myself,” said McIlroy, who only missed two fairways and one green in regulation all day. “I’m going to try to win the other tournament — he (Martin) is playing different golf than everyone else.”
Belgium’s Thomas Pieters shot 70 to stay in second place but his chances of a first win on the European Tour were virtually dashed by another exhibition from Kaymer on a National Course for which he has a great affinity.
The numbers Kaymer is putting up in the United Arab Emirates capital are mind-boggling. He is 107 under here in his last 31 rounds, hasn’t dropped a shot in 43 holes and can break his record score of 24 under — set in 2011 — with a 67 or less on Sunday.
Kaymer’s three wins in Abu Dhabi — the opening event of the year for many players — came in 2008, ’10 and ’11 and he also has a second and fifth place.
The German birdied five of his first eight holes and somehow escaped dropping a shot for the first time since Thursday after hitting his second shot at No. 10 into a bush. He took a drop, chipped from the desert into a greenside bunker, only to find the cup from the sand for the second straight day on that hole.
It brought a fist pump from Kaymer, who birdied Nos. 11 and 13 before parring his way home on a third straight day of sunny skies and just a slight breeze. He opened the tournament with rounds of 64 and 67.
“I’m surprised the way I have played,” said Kaymer, who took nearly a month off around Christmas and admitted to being rusty in practice in the 10 days before Abu Dhabi. “I had a little bit of a bad conscience coming here because I didn’t practice as much as I did in the past.”
“Hopefully I can stay in the 20s, that’s the first goal,” he added, looking ahead to Sunday. “I’m not really thinking of the record. To me, it is important to win the golf tournament.”
McIlroy, who started two shots behind Kaymer, had been looking forward to a weekend battle with Kaymer to sharpen his focus at the start of the year in which he will look to complete a career Grand Slam at the Masters in April. But while his driving and iron play remained as strong as Friday’s performance, when he shot a 66, he had a poor day on the greens after giving himself a chance at nearly every hole.
“I struggled to read them,” McIlroy said. “Struggled with pace. Struggled with everything.”
His only birdies came at Nos. 6 and 12, and he is 12 under alongside France’s Gary Stal (67) and South Africa’s Charl Schwartzel (65). Austria’s Bernd Wiesberger (66) and France’sAlexander Levy (67) are tied for third on 13 under.
South Korea’s An Byeong-hun made a hole-in-one on No. 15 for the fourth ace of tournament, which is two off the record set at the Mediterranean Open in 1991.
American star Rickie Fowler is 19 shots off contention after a 73, although he eagled the last — and got a ride on a camel at the back of the 18th.
Who will have a better year: Martin Kaymer, Rory McIlroy or Rickie Fowler? Join the conversation in the comments section below.