Paul Casey and Peter Hanson separated themselves from the logjam on the leaderboard to lead the Volvo Champions by one stroke after the third round on Saturday.
The leading eight players were separated by only three shots in the new European Tour event.
England's Casey and Sweden's Hanson shrugged off indifferent starts and made a bunch of birdies in the middle portion of the Colin Montgomerie-designed Royal Golf Club course, and then both missed putts from inside five feet on the final hole.
Casey came in with a bogey-free 6-under-par 66, while Hanson dropped just one shot _ on his first hole _ for a 67. That lifted them to 16-under 200 totals and a one-stroke lead over Northern Ireland's Darren Clarke (67) and South African James Kingston (67).
Miguel Angel Jimenez of Spain, back with a putter after breaking it in two midway through the second round, was in fifth place at 202, following a 3-under 69. Another stroke back were Italian teenager Matteo Manassero (66), Sweden's Johan Edfors (68) and Scotland's Stephen Gallacher (69).
Casey, twice a winner in the Desert Swing and both times in Abu Dhabi, had a plan for the final round to try and complete his first win since the 2009 BMW PGA Championship.
"I just need more of the same. I just need to play like I did today," the No.9-ranked Casey said. "I gave myself lots of opportunities. If I shoot another good round of golf, that's the plan, and then what everybody else does, is out of my hands.
"There's been injuries in 2009 that were lingering early last year. Last year wasn't a bad season overall. It was disappointing not to get victories, but really it was only six months of very, very healthy golf.
"It's difficult out there. I'm playing in the best events around the world. I do need to step it up. I do need victories, but I'm not in any way worried about it."
Hanson, who was bedridden this week with a bout of flu, said he's almost recovered.
"Still have a little bit of cough left, but no fever," he said. "I am feeling better day by day.
"I have to say I'm very happy with the way I fought myself around this course, and my putting. I made some really good putts today during the turn there, so I'm really feeling good standing over a putter."
Among the early movers up the leaderboard was American Todd Hamilton. The 2004 British Open champion lost his card on the U.S. PGA Tour last season and was making use of his 10-year exemption on the European Tour for winning the Open at Royal Troon. Almost half an hour before the leaders teed off, Hamilton finished a brilliant, bogey-free round of 64, which matched the course record, to climb to 205 for the tournament.
The 45-year-old Hamillton made four birdies in each half of the course.
"I have been hitting the ball well, and the only difference today was that I could take advantage of my good shots and convert them. That was something I could not do on the first two days.
"The greens were very receptive and also still pretty slow, and the course here reminds me of Palm Springs in the States, and I've always enjoyed playing in those parts."