Rory McIlroy completed the best weekend comeback of his career to successfully defend his title and win a record fourth Dubai Desert Classic.
The Northern Irishman’s previous biggest recovery with two rounds to go was from five shots back at the 2015 BMW PGA Championship but having begun round three 10 adrift he closed out a one-stroke victory on one of his favourite courses at the Emirates Golf Club.
Saturday’s 63 had catapulted him into contention but there were far fewer fireworks in his final round and, while McIlroy escaped with some loose shots over his last few holes, rivals Cameron Young and Adrian Meronk were also guilty of scrappy play and were unable to exert any meaningful pressure.
“I didn’t really think about that (the comeback) during the course of the round,” McIlroy, who shot a one-under-par 71 to finish 14 under, told Sky Sports.
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“I thought the way the course was trending, two 67s would really have a chance and the 63 put me in a great position.
“I thought on Friday night 10 under for the weekend I’d have a really good chance and I shot 11 under and won by one.
“It was a really tricky day, it was hard to get it close and make a ton of birdies. The pivotal moment came on eight and nine when I made two threes.”
McIlroy, who now has a victory and a second place in his first two starts of the season, added: “It wasn’t one of those days where there was a ton of fireworks but I held on as best I could and thankfully no-one at the top of the leaderboard made a run.
“I made that one blunder on 13 and made bogey but felt I steadied the ship well over the final few holes.”
McIlroy began the day two shots behind leader Young but his birdie after driving the 351-yard second, combined with the American debutant’s bogeys at four and six after sand trouble saw the advantage swing a stroke in the Northern Irishman’s favour.
And with Young not recording his first birdie until the 10th, Meronk emerged as his chief challenger briefly sharing the lead on 13 under before chipping across the seventh green and into the water for a double-bogey five.
McIlroy extended his lead to three at the turn with a bending 31-foot birdie putt on the eighth and then another from half that distance.
His only real moment of concern came with a first bogey in 38 holes at the 13th where he could not escape from the waste area at the first attempt after taking an aggressive line at the par five and going too far left, narrowly missing holing his greenside chip for a par.
Up ahead, Meronk’s third birdie since the turn put him within one but then he bogeyed the 16th while McIlroy effected a brilliant escape from the left waste area and lagged a putt from 48ft to salvage a par, meaning playing the last two holes in regulation was enough to secure his landmark win.
“It’s a great start to the season. I started well last year with the win here,” added McIlroy.
“A couple of little things still to work on but these weeks are great. You learn a ton from them and obviously great to get the competition and come out on top as well.”