It's not often that Rory McIlroy gets to cross something off his professional golf bucket list.
After all the current world No. 1 owns 35 professional wins - including four major championships - and is the face of the European Ryder Cup team. He's claimed the PGA Tour's FedEx Cup three times and the DP World Tour's Race to Dubai four times. Player of the Year and money list awards? He's got those, too.
All that said, after three rounds in Dubai, McIlroy has a chance to accomplish a career first. Weather pushed this week's 2023 Hero Dubai Desert Classic to a Monday finish, and with just 18 holes left the Northern Irishman finds himself at the top of the leaderboard with a three-shot advantage over Callum Shinkwin and Dan Bradbury (T-2, 12 under).
"I love this golf course. I love this tournament," said McIlroy of Emirates Golf Club. "I've won here a couple of times. This is my first start of the year. I don't think I've ever won in my first start of the year. I had plenty of chances at Abu Dhabi down the road over the years, and never quite got it done. So tomorrow is a nice opportunity to try to do something that I've never done before."
He's correct. McIlroy turned professional in 2007 and while he's never won his first start of the new year, he's logged 12 top-five finishes over the last 16 years (nine in Abu Dhabi).
Dating back to his Tour Championship win in October, McIlroy hasn't finished worse than T-4 over his last six starts. After an overblown incident on the range with Patrick Reed to start the week, McIlroy now has a chance to end it on a high note.
Story originally appeared on GolfWeek