Matt Fitzpatrick leads the DP World Tour Championship at the halfway stage
Fitzpatrick carded a second consecutive 67 at Jumeirah Golf Estates to reach 10 under par, a shot ahead of the man he beat into second place last year, English compatriot Tyrrell Hatton.
Justin Rose, who would overhaul Fleetwood with a remarkable third consecutive victory on Sunday, was a shot further back alongside Julian Suri and Kiradech Aphibarnrat after a costly three-putt bogey on the 18th.
And that meant Fleetwood had regained the upper hand – albeit by a narrow margin – in his bid to end the season as European No1. A superb 65 lifted him 35 places in the 60-man field and to within two shots of Rose on six under.
“Today was pressure in a different way,” said Fleetwood. “If I had shot level par or one under everything is completely out of my hands.
“I’ve kept myself in with a chance of the tournament but it’s only a big round if I keep it going. I don’t know whether Justin will be bothered or not. He is so strong mentally and he knows what he’s doing.
“He’s been in a lot of situations like this and this is my first time, but I’m glad I’ve put my name up there rather than the wrong end of the leaderboard.”
Fleetwood finished his round just moments before Rose started his own and after four birdies and a bogey in his first 15 holes, the former US Open champion needed to birdie the 18th for a share of the lead.
However, Rose missed the green with his approach and three-putted following a poor chip to end the day on a disappointing note.
“The three-wood on the last was an unforced error but then to compound it with a three-putt was very frustrating,” Rose said. “Every permutation is still in play. All I had to do was give myself a chance going into the weekend and that’s what I’ve done.”
Fitzpatrick’s 67 included five birdies and an eagle and ensured he has not been outside the top eight after his last 10 rounds in the event.
Tommy Fleetwood and Justin Rose are battling it out for the Race to Dubai
“I’ve got nothing to lose,” the 23-year-old said. “I’m not trying to win the Race to Dubai unfortunately. The main focus is on Justin and Tommy and that’s fine with me. If I can sneak in under the radar and win that would be great.”
Hatton was on course to equal or better Rose’s course record of 62 thanks to holing out from 144 yards on the fifth for an eagle and eight birdies, only to bogey the last.
The world No17 did the same in the final round 12 months ago to lose out to Fitzpatrick.
After having to settle for a 63 this time he said: “It’s a pretty bitter pill to swallow on 18. That hole seems to hate me. Hopefully one day I’ll actually play it well.”