DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Rory McIlroy's chance for the European money title took a hit when his ball landed in the water on 18, finishing five shots off the lead halfway through the Dubai World Championship on Friday.
McIlroy had a 1-under 71 to trail Spanish leader Alvaro Quiros, who eagled the 18th for a 64.
Top-ranked Luke Donald finished with three straight birdies for a 68, tied for 12th.
The second-ranked McIlroy needs to win at Jumeirah Golf Estates and hope Donald finishes no better than ninth to claim the European money title. Donald looks to become the first to win both the European and American titles.
The U.S. Open champion admitted the failed last-hole gamble makes it unlikely he can overtake Donald for the title, though he insisted he wasn't conceding it just yet.
"I've got a bit of an uphill battle on my hands now to try and win the tournament," he said. "But it's still very possible. I'm only five shots back with 36 holes to go which you can make up in nine holes ... I've got to stay very patient and bide my time."
Donald is looking to stay consistent throughout the tournament.
"I've been making a few uncharacteristic mistakes, not sure what that is down to, maybe just the situation and what is at stake," said Donald, who has finished outside the top 10 on the European Tour only three times this year. "But yeah, to make three birdies in a row will make lunch taste great and hopefully make the next two days a little easier."
Quiros' bogey-free low round of the day included six birdies. He's at 12-under 132 for the tournament, four shots clear of Sweden's Peter Hanson (72). England's Robert Rock (69) was another shot behind at 7 under, tied with McIlroy.
The 52nd-ranked Quiros was tied for fifth after the first round. He is aiming for his second victory on the European Tour this year and sixth overall.
The big-hitting Quiros lost last week to McIlroy in the Hong Kong after leading by three shots going into the final round.
His putting improved this week, saving a good putt on 10 and making the eagle putt on 18.
"From my point of view, it's a very positive thing," Quiros said. "If I'm able to lead a European Tour event in a golf course that doesn't fit me, it means I'm an improving golfer. That is what I want."
McIlroy started out strong, much as he did on Thursday, with two birdies on the front nine. But he offset them on the back nine with three bogeys. On the 18th, he gambled on his approach shot and ended up in water.
"It obviously wasn't the way I wanted to finish," McIlroy said. "You know, 3 under after 16 holes. If I had picked one up at the last two, which I was trying to do and get to 10-under par for the tournament, it would have been a really good day. But unfortunately it wasn't the case."
McIlroy said the effects of a lingering illness didn't have an impact, adding he "didn't feel too bad."
He said he came down with a mild case of dengue fever while he was in South Korea and China in October and early November. Blood results on Thursday showed his "platelet count was low and my white blood cell count was low as well."
McIlroy said he will see a doctor again on Saturday before deciding whether to pull out of the Thailand Golf Championship next week.
"To be honest, I'm ready for the season to be done," said McIlroy, who never considered pulling out of the Dubai Championship. "But you know, it's up to her (the doctor) at the end of the day. If she feels like I can go, then I'll make the decision whether I can go or not."
For Donald, it looked like he was headed for another disappointing day.
An errant drive on the first hole led to a bogey, but he bounced back with two birdies in a row. He managed one birdie to go with a bogey over the next 11 holes as he struggled to keep his drives on the fairway.
But on the final three holes, the Englishman ran off three straight birdies. On the 18th, Donald's drive landed in a pile of wood chips in the rough, but his 200-yard approach shot landed on the green and he sank a 12-footer for birdie.
"Well, it was certainly a lot of pressure out there," Donald said. "It's just that I've got to handle it. I'm making a little bit too many unforced errors and I need to play the weekend like Luke Donald knows how to play."
Third-ranked Lee Westwood (70) was at 2 under, and No. 4 Martin Kaymer (71) on par for the tournament.
Follow Michael Casey on Twitter at https://twitter.com/mcasey1