(CNN) -- Rory McIlroy says the Race to Dubai is over, but Luke Donald is taking nothing for granted as he bids to become the first golfer to top both the European and U.S. money lists in the same season on Sunday.
Saturday's opening nine holes could prove crucial in the year-long battle, as world No. 1 Donald picked up four birdies to surge up the leaderboard at the Dubai World Championship, while second-ranked McIlroy dropped three shots to slide in the other direction.
"It's over -- definitely. And Luke deserves it," McIlroy conceded after his one-under-par 71 left him tied for eighth ahead of the final round, six shots behind leader Alvaro Quiros.
Donald, who will make history by finishing ninth even if McIlroy bounces back to win the $7.5 million event, moved up to fourth with a 66 that put him four shots adrift of the pacesetting Spaniard.
"I would be foolish to think it's over," said the Englishman, who clinched the PGA Tour money list with victory in the final event in October. "Tomorrow it will be just like any other day in terms of my focus.
"It will be on trying to catch whoever is the leader and trying to win the tournament. I'm not going to count on anything. But if it all works out, tomorrow night will be fun -- it would be a pretty amazing feat. It's history."
McIlroy, who needs to claim the €922,645 first prize to have any chance of overhauling Donald, bogeyed the third hole and suffered a double at the par-five seventh after hooking into a bush.
But the 22-year-old recovered once his girlfriend, tennis star Caroline Wozniacki, arrived at Jumeirah Golf Estates' Earth Course to watch the second half of his third round as he birdied 11, 12, 16 and 18.
"I'm tired. I'm very tired," said the U.S. Open champion, who has been suffering from a mystery illness which is suspected to be a mild case of Dengue fever.
"But I don't want to say that's the cause of playing the way I did on the front nine because I came back. I'm not 100%, but that should not stop me. I was trying to stay patient and hit good shots, but I just couldn't do it.
"Luke has played well all year and I expect him to have another solid round. I don't think he's been given enough credit for the golf he's played, but from within the golfing family I am sure he will receive a lot of plaudits."
Quiros is seeking to clinch his second title in the emirate this year, having won the Dubai Desert Classic in February when McIlroy fell away in the final round.
"I'm still leading the tournament, even though the day wasn't the best one," said the world No. 52, who saw his four-shot halfway advantage cut to two by Scotland's Paul Lawrie
"I'm still hitting good shots and good putts, so this is the only thing that matters."
Quiros -- Europe's longest hitter for the fourth time in five seasons -- bogeyed the final hole, which he eagled on Friday, to sign for a 70 and be 14-under 202.
Lawrie eagled 18 as he picked up five shots in the last six holes to card 66 and be one shot clear of fellow former British Open champion Louis Oosthuizen.
The South African also shot 66, eagling the seventh hole as Quiros did, to be one ahead of Donald.
Italy's Francesco Molinari (68) was tied for fifth with Ireland's Shane Lowry (68) and Sweden's Peter Hanson (71) on 207.
Germany's Martin Kaymer, the race to Dubai winner last year and third overall so far in 2011, also eagled the 18th as he fired a flawless 64.
The former world No. 1 was tied with McIlroy, Spain's Sergio Garcia (68), South Africa's 2011 Masters champion Charl Schwartzel (68) and Englishmen Paul Casey (70) and Robert Rock (71).
Lee Westwood, the inaugural Race to Dubai winner when he overhauled McIlroy in the standings after winning this tournament in 2009, was tied for 16th on 211 after a second successive 69.
The top 15 finishers of the 60-man field will earn a share of the $7.5 million bonus pool.