DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) - Rory McIlroy's bid for the Race To Dubai title was in doubt after he hit into the water on 18 and finished five shots off the lead halfway through the Dubai World Championship on Friday.
No. 2-ranked McIlroy needs to win at Jumeirah Golf Estates and hope No. 1 Luke Donald finishes no better than ninth to claim the European money title. Donald hopes to become the first golfer to win the European and American titles.
McIlroy admitted the failed last-hole gamble makes it unlikely he can overtake Donald for the European money title, though he insisted he wasn't conceding it 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 helped his cause, finishing with three birdies in a row to post a 4-under 68, tied for 12th.
"It was a struggle today. 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."
McIlroy, with his second straight bogey on 18, carded 71 to lie five shots behind Spanish leader Alvaro Quiros, who eagled the 18th for a 64.
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 a further shot behind at 7 under, tied with McIlroy.
McIlroy started out strong, much as he did on Thursday, with two birdies on the front nine. But on the back nine they were offset by three bogeys. On the 18th, he gambled on his approach shot and ended up in water.
"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," McIlroy said. "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 came back on Thursday that 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 then 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 fell 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."
Quiros, who lost to McIlroy in Hong Kong last week after leading by three shots going into the final round, said the difference this week has been his putter, notably saving par on 10 and getting an eagle on 18.
"From my point of view, it's a very positive thing," he 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."
The same could not be said for 1999 British Open champion Paul Lawrie. The Scot briefly held the lead on Friday after three birdies on his first four holes. But then he double-bogeyed the 12th and bogeyed three of his last four holes to finished with a 73. He was 6 under overall and tied for fifth with Paul Casey of England.
"Played the same as yesterday to start with and then just drove the ball all over the place," Lawrie said. "Drove the ball as bad as I can remember. So when you do that and you don't hole a putt, there's a fair chance you're going to shoot over par."
No. 3-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