Rory McIlroy called it one of the toughest rounds he had played in terms of mentally staying strong. In the end, he holed a 14-and-a-half-foot putt on the 18th hole of the Hero Dubai Desert Classic, which stretched into the fifth day after unprecedented rains played havoc on the first two days.
McIlroy coming into the final round with a three-shot lead over the field and four ahead of Patrick Reed, with whom there has been a lot of tension in the recent past, pulled ahead right at the end after being momentarily trailing around the 15th.
Said McIlroy, “I think mentally today was probably one of the toughest rounds I’ve ever had to play because it would be really easy to let your emotions get in the way and I just had to really concentrate on focusing on myself. Forget who was up there on the leader board, and I did that really, really well. I feel like I showed a lot of mental strength out there today, and again, something to really build on for the rest of the year.”
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For a man, who has been World No. 1 for weeks in multiple stretches, it was the first Rolex series win and the third win at the Hero Dubai Desert Classic after a dramatic final day at Emirates Golf Club.
Even as Reed made an early charge with three birdies in first six holes, McIlroy had no birdies for the first eight holes. Then the World No. 1 birdied ninth and 10th. But Reed added an eagle, too. He was level with McIlroy and when the Northern Ireland legend bogeyed 15th and Reed was on 16th fairway, the American was one ahead. But Reed bogeyed 16th and fell back as both were 17-under. McIlroy birdied 17th and came to the 18th at 18-under, while Reed one group ahead birdied the 18th and also sat 18-under.
McIlroy, who went into the water last year at the same 72nd hole and lost the chance to win – Viktor Hovland took the title. On Sunday, when the third round was played this time because of weather delays, McIlroy again went into water while trying to reach the green in two.
Later he said he might not do the same on the final day – Monday – if it was tight. He held back. He layed up, played his third shot to just under 15 feet and holed it clean for a birdie and a historic win.
Reed’s 65 made for a thrilling finish as the duo went toe-to-toe over the back nine but it was McIlroy who emerged the victor to move to second in the Race to Dubai Rankings in Partnership with Rolex.
It is the first time the Northern Irishman has won his first event of the year and takes his tally of DP World Tour wins to 15 at the scene of his first, which came 13 years and 363 days ago. The 33-year-old also surpassed his countryman and fellow Major winner Darren Clarke to become the player from Northern Ireland with the most DP World Tour victories.
McIlroy extended his remarkable run of form which saw him record nine top tens in ten events last season, with a worst finish of 12th en route to being crowned Europe’s Number One.
McIlroy added,” It means a lot. It’s actually funny, (caddie) Harry said to me, ‘finally we get a gold bib’. Obviously I haven’t won one of these big ones before.
It was a battle all day. Honestly it’s been a battle all week. I really feel like I haven’t had my best all week but I just managed my game so well and played really smart. I feel like I showed a lot of mental strength out there today, something to really build on for the rest of the year.
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“There’s been a ton of positives this week but also been some things that I need to learn from and I need to try to improve on.
“I’m going to enjoy this. This is probably sweeter than it should be or needs to be but I feel like I’ve still got some stuff to work on. It’s a great start to the year and a really good foundation to work from.
“Yeah, look, it’s never easy closing out a golf tournament. There’s always going to be people that make runs, and you know, playing when you’re defending a lead or have a lead, you’re always going to play a little more carefully than the guys that are coming up behind you.”
“Obviously I felt them closing in, and obviously on the back nine when Patrick sort of drew level with me, I really needed to dig deep. I thought I had sort of blown my chance with the bogey on 15. But thankfully, he bogeyed 16, and then I played a great last couple of holes, great tee shot on 17, good two-putt and got up-and-down at the last.”