Rory McIlroy won his first Rolex Series title with a third victory at the Hero Dubai Desert Classic after a dramatic final day at Emirates Golf Club.
The World Number One has a CV to rival the greats of the game, with four Major Championships, four Harry Vardon Trophies and three FedEx Cups to his name but he arrived in the UAE still missing a triumph in one of the DP World Tour’s prestige events.
He put that right in fine fashion on a Monday finish over the Majlis Course, birdieing the 17th and 18th in a 68 to finish at 19 under, one clear of American Patrick Reed.
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 surpasses his countryman and fellow Major winner Darren Clarke to become the player from Northern Ireland with the most DP World Tour victories.
McIlroy 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 Number One.
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.
Rory McIlroy: “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.
“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.
“Mentally it was very tough today. Like I felt like I could have let my emotions get in the way. I really — 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 sort of set myself a target of 20-under at the start of the day. That obviously would have been good enough; 19 was enough in the end. I thought I did really well mentally today. I didn’t have my best tough today. I didn’t have my best stuff all week. But I managed my game well and being able to putt it in good spots and get up-and-down when I needed to. So yeah, like overall, it’s been a pretty draining week as the first week back out. But obviously ecstatic to get the win.”