Rory McIlroy won his first Rolex Series title with a third victory at the Dubai Desert Classic after a dramatic final day tussle with rival Patrick Reed at Emirates Golf Club.
Although possessing a CV to rival the greats of the game, including four Major titles, four Harry Vardon trophies and three FedEx Cups to his name, he arrived in the UAE still missing a triumph in one of the DP World Tour’s prestige Rolex Series events. He put that right in fine fashion on a Monday finish over the Majlis Course, birdieing 17 and 18 to post a closing 68 and finish at 19 under, one clear of American – and LIV Golf member – Patrick Reed, whom he had been sparring with all week on and off the course.
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 with a majestic front-running performance over the weekend in Dubai.
Australian Lucas Herbert – the 2020 winner of this event – finished third at 16 under, a shot clear of England’s Callum Shinkwin and two ahead of Frenchman Julien Brun. Belgian Thomas Pieters and England’s Ian Poulter were at 13 under, one ahead of Swedish pair Marcus Kinhult and Henrik Stenson, England’s Richard Bland, Spaniard Angel Hidalgo and American Johannes Veerman.
McIlroy, who punched the air with delight after sinking a 15-foot putt on the last to win the title, said: “It’s been a pretty draining week, But I’m ecstatic to get the win. It means a lot, especially as I haven’t won one of the Rolex Series events before. It was a battle all day, it’s been a battle all week. I really feel like I haven’t had my best this 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, and that’s something to really build on for the rest of the year.
Alluding to his rivalry with Reed, he added:”I’m going to enjoy this. This is probably sweeter than it should be, or needs to be, but it’s a great start to the year and a really good foundation to work from. 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 drew level with me, I really needed to dig deep. I thought I had 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.
He added: “Mentally it was very tough today. Like I felt like I could have let my emotions get in the way. I expended a lot of mental energy today trying to focus on myself and focus on shooting a score and trying to reach a number. I set myself a target of 20-under at the start of the day. That obviously would have been good enough. But I managed my game well and being able to putt it in good spots and get up-and-down when I needed to.”
Victory in Dubai takes McIlroy’s tally of DP World Tour wins to 15 at the scene of his first, which came 13 years ago. The 33-year-old also surpasses his countryman and fellow Major winner Darren Clarke to become the player from Northern Ireland with the most DP World Tour victories. McIlroy also joins Ernie Els as a three-time winner at Emirates Golf Club and extends 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 no.1.
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