(CNN) -- It could've paid for some wedding.
With fiancée Caroline Wozniacki watching, golf star Rory McIlroy thought they were in for an unexpected early gift in Dubai on Saturday.
Seeking the record $2.5 million on offer for a hole-in-one at the 325-yard par-four 17th hole, the former world No. 1 saw his drive roll agonizingly past the cup.
"I saw the pitch mark and it must have just run past the hole -- it could have paid for my wedding," joked the Northern Irishman, who proposed to his tennis star girlfriend in Sydney on New Year's Eve.
"It's a great shot to get it on that green and try to get it in the hole. I'll go for it again tomorrow and see what happens," he told reporters.
But perhaps foremost in the 25-year-old's mind on Sunday will be winning his first European Tour title in 14 months as he seeks to regain the lead from defending Desert Classic champion Stephen Gallacher.
The Scot carded a sizzling nine-under-par 63 in Saturday's third round to claim a two-shot advantage over McIlroy, who shot 69.
The 39-year-old was 10 under for the last 10 holes as he fired eight birdies and an eagle in his bid to become the first player to retain the title on the tournament's 25th anniversary.
"That's a great stretch of holes and hopefully he doesn't continue it tomorrow!" said 2009 winner McIlroy, who played with Gallacher in the opening two rounds -- also carding 63 on the opening day before a bout of food poisoning saw him struggle to 70 on Friday.
McIlroy was denied victory in Abu Dhabi last month after a two-shot penalty incurred in the third round following an incident flagged up by a playing partner's caddy.
His last victory on the European Tour came at the season-ending championship in Dubai in November 2012, when he clinched a money-list double by adding to his PGA Tour title.
"I got off to another shaky start," he said of Saturday's effort, in which he bogeyed the opening hole but rebounded with an eagle at the par-five third.
"The conditions were tricky out there, it was breezy. It was tough to get close to some of these pins."
Veteran Dane Thomas Bjorn, the 2001 champion, shot 65 to be tied for third with 23-year-old American Brooks Koepa, who signed for 70 -- both were four shots adrift of Gallacher.
World No. 1 Tiger Woods, the winner in 2006 and 2008, was 11 strokes off the pace in a tie for 37th after four-birdie 70 which left the American on five-under 211.
"I wasted a lot of opportunities out there," Woods told reporters. "I only hit a couple of bad shots, missed a ton of putts and just threw away a lot of shots."
Meanwhile, former Masters champion Bubba Watson shared the halfway lead at the PGA Tour's Phoenix Open.
Watson followed his opening 64 with a 66, but was caught at the top as Matt Jones carded a second successive 65.
British Open champion Phil Mickelson was eight shots off the pace after his 67 on Friday.