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An 18-hole duel in the desert is set for the final day of the 2024 Dubai Invitational as Tommy Fleetwood takes a one-stroke lead over Rory McIlroy into Sunday's last round of the DP World Tour's opening event of the year. Fleetwood's third-round 63 saw the Englishman take full advantage of his Moving Day to reach 15 under while McIlroy tried his best to keep pace with a 4-under 67 to stand at 14 under.

Fleetwood's performance Saturday was flawless. Four birdies in his opening six holes helped the world No. 15 reach 11 under for the tournament and grab the solo lead by the time he made the turn. Four more birdies soon followed as Fleetwood's scorecard featured circles on four of the first five holes of his inward half. Ho-hum birdies on the two par 5s were coupled with birdie bombs from 36 feet on No. 12 and from 37 feet on No. 14. 

"I felt I played very well, got off to the perfect start and got momentum early on, which I didn't have yesterday," Fleetwood said. "That little patch through the middle of the back nine where you just start seeing putts going in, it's funny when you get a day like that and you're just looking at them and you just feel like you can come close. I hit a couple of really nice putts early on, was rolling the ball well and hit the greens well. Today they went my way, just a bit of confidence when you start holing some and just get in that rhythm and that flow."

McIlroy's Ryder Cup teammate was racing out in front and the Northern Irishman had no answer on his front side. Exchanging an early birdie with a bogey on No. 5, the world No. 2 turned in even par. After failing to convert a birdie on the par-5 10th, McIlroy found his groove in the middle of his back nine.

A 34-foot birdie on No. 11 was the first of three in a row as the 34-year-old clawed closer to the Englishman. A two-stroke lead for Fleetwood seemed a sure thing until McIlroy's birdie bid from 22 feet on the par-3 16th found the bottom of the cup to cut the front man's lead in half. A pair of pars over the final two holes set a date in Sunday's final pair for the two good friends.

"It was a little bit of a slow start but then I got things going on the back nine. Shot four under on the back to try to keep up with Tommy," said McIlroy. "I played well on that back nine and earned myself a tee time with him tomorrow and it'll be good fun. I'm looking forward to it…I think just first week back, being in the final group, I started feeling a little bit of the buzz and the pressure, trying to win a golf tournament. You think you know where your game is until you play in it in a situation like that."

Despite the jovial affair between the two, both Fleetwood and McIlroy would love nothing more than to raise the year's first trophy. McIlroy seeks his 17th career DP World Tour title and another in the Middle East as he is set to defend the Dubai Desert Classic next week. Meanwhile, Fleetwood looks for confirmation that his game is indeed among the world's best. Always the bridesmaid and never the bride, Fleetwood has clocked eight top-five finishes around the world since his last victory at the 2022 Nedbank Challenge. A win — especially one over a daunted competitor like McIlroy — could give Fleetwood the momentum and confidence to make 2024 his year.