Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (SportsNetwork.com) - Craig Lee carded a 3- under 69 on Saturday and finished three rounds two strokes clear of the field at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship.
Lee, who will go for his first European Tour victory on Sunday, stands at 12- under-par 204 through 54 holes.
Phil Mickelson made the cut by one stroke, then fired a 9-under 63 on Saturday to vault into a share of second place at 10-under-par 206. He was joined there by Gaganjeet Bhullar, who shot 6-under 66 in the third round.
Rory McIlroy, a two-time runner-up at this event, was assessed a two-stroke penalty for an illegal drop on the second hole. That turned his 68 into a 70 and dropped him into a share of fourth at minus-9 with Pablo Larrazabal (68).
"Rory's ball came to rest in a marked gallery crosswalk to the left of the second fairway from which relief is available under the rules. He found what he thought to be his nearest point of relief where the ball was outside and when he dropped the ball within a club's length, when he actually stood to the ball, his left foot was standing on or just over the line demarking the area of ground under repair which is treated as part of the ground under repair," explained head referee John Paramor. "Therefore, he has not taken full relief and he is in breach of the Rule 25/1, the penalty for which is two strokes."
Miguel Angel Jimenez (67), Thongchai Jaidee (68), Michael Hoey (68), Rafael Cabrera-Bello (73) and Matthew Baldwin (69) are tied for sixth at 8-under 208 at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. Cabrera-Bello held a share of the 36-hole lead with Lee.
Lee opened his round with five straight pars, and was one behind Mickelson, who had already polished off his 63. Lee birdied the sixth from off the green, then made it two in a row as he birdied No. 7 for the third straight day.
At the ninth, Lee's par putt lipped out and his 3-putt bogey dropped him to minus-10, where he shared the lead with Mickelson, McIlroy and Bhullar.
Lee bounced right back with an 8-foot birdie putt on the 10th and birdied the 13th with a putt from the fringe to move two ahead at 12-under.
After failing to save par from over the 16th green, Lee converted a birdie try to move one clear of McIlroy. Lee parred the last, and his lead went from one to two after McIlroy's penalty.
"It's exciting. The quality of the players behind me is nothing I have been used to before," Lee admitted. "I can't control what they are going to do, I just have to go out and play the best I can."
Mickelson birdied three of the first four holes before tripping to a bogey on No. 5. He erased that mistake with a birdie on the sixth, and he jumped to 5- under for his round, and 6-under overall, with an eagle on the par-5 eighth.
The British Open champion had a similar start to his back nine. Mickelson birdied three of the first four, then stumbled to a bogey on No. 14. He came right back with a birdie on 15 to gain a piece of the lead.
Mickelson poured in a 30-footer for birdie at the last to shoot 63 and miss the course record by a shot.
"What I like is that it feels better each day," Mickelson said. "The first day, I felt terrible. The second day, half of it started to come around and today it started to feel pretty good and hopefully I'll be able to build on it again tomorrow."
Bhullar started with birdies on one and two, then had three birdies in a 6- hole span from the sixth to get to minus-9. Bhullar had one birdie over the final seven holes, on the par-3 15th, to end in a tie for second.
McIlroy made par on the par-5 second, but his bad drop turned that into a double-bogey after the round. He had birdies on the third, seventh and eighth to make the turn at minus-10.
The Ulsterman ran off nine consecutive pars from the ninth before chipping inside two feet and kicking in that birdie effort at the last.
"I hit my second shot on the second into the left rough, but on the spectator crosswalk. I took a drop and played my shot, but I did not notice my left foot was still on the line and you need to take full relief," McIlroy said.
"We went out to see it again and see my divot and it was clear I could not have played my shot with my feet anywhere else. It's unfortunate. If anything, it was a disadvantage because I dropped it in a bad lie and did not make birdie."
NOTES: Lee had the 54-hole lead last year at the European Masters, but lost in a playoff to Thomas Bjorn ... Mickelson soared 41 places on the leaderboard thanks to his 63.