By David French

DUBAI (Reuters) - Henrik Stenson has one hand on the European Order of Merit title after a string of birdies on the back nine of his third round at the DP World Tour Championship on Saturday lifted the Swede up the leaderboard as his money-list rivals failed to make headway.

While the 40-year old was making moves toward topping the season's rankings, France's Victor Dubuisson fired himself into contention for the tournament win with an eight-under-par round to lead by one shot after 54 holes.

Having continued his struggles of the first two days into day three with bogeys on holes four, six and 10, Stenson finally clicked into gear in the afternoon sunshine in Dubai as he holed five birdies in the last seven holes - including chipping straight in from the greenside rough on 16.

"I turned it around at least and, yeah, I've got to be pretty pleased with the way we managed to play on the way home," Stenson told reporters.

His two-under par round of 70 moved him to five under for the tournament, level with world number two Rory McIlroy, who had earlier threatened one of his familiar surges to give himself a sniff of a chance to usurp Stenson.

However, the Northern Irishman found the water with his second shot on 18, and the eventual bogey left him four under for the day.

"Maybe I just was a little too aggressive with it and pulled it slightly, as anything left of that pin is going to go in the water, unless you hit it way past the pin," McIlroy said.

Coming into the tournament second on the money list, Danny Willett's challenge wilted on Saturday as a four-over par 76 left him well out of contention for both the event and season honors.

Sweden's Alex Noren posted a three-under-par 69 to leave him tied for 13th overall at seven-under. He needs a top-two finish in Dubai to be in with a shout of topping the money list.

FRENCH REVELATION

After a steady first two days, Dubuisson emerged from the pack to head the season-ending championship.

The Frenchman's eight-under par 64 included seven birdies and a eagle achieved through a contender for shot of the tournament on hole five - a majestic approach which gently spun back into the cup.

"Yeah, sometimes it goes in," Dubuisson said of the eagle. "I made a lucky bogey on the next hole, so it kind of set it up."

Rivalling the Frenchman - both for the tournament and individual piece of brilliance - was English youngster Matthew Fitzpatrick.

His six-under par 66 included a monster eagle putt on hole seven, as well as seven birdies. The only aberration was a double-bogey on 13.

The 22-year-old was joined on 12 under par by fellow Englishman Tyrrell Hatton and Nicolas Colsaerts. Tied-second after day one, it is where the Belgian is placed once more after a topsy-turvy round three of two eagles, six birdies but also four bogeys.

A further shot back were the trio of Spain's Rafa Cabrera Bello, who made 10 birdies and a bogey to record the lowest round of the tournament, England's Lee Westwood and overnight co-leader Francesco Molinari of Italy.

Fellow halfway leader Sergio Garcia of Spain fell away after a two-over par round of 74 which included four bogeys and a double-bogey on the front nine.

(Editing by Ed Osmond)