Rory McIlroy claims historic fourth Dubai Desert Classic with thrilling title defence

Holder finishes on 14-under to win by a stroke ahead of Adrian Meronk

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There are a few things which immediately spring to mind when thinking about Dubai. The Burj Khalifa, obviously. The Creek and Jumeirah Beach, of course. The Burj Al Arab, certainly.

And Rory McIlroy. Not many things are quite as synonymous with this city as success for the Northern Irishman on its golf courses.

After claiming a historic fourth title at the Emirates Golf Club on Sunday, McIlroy acknowledged that he and the city had grown up together in the best part of two decades since they first made each other’s acquaintance.

His list of career highlights has “Dubai” written on it more times than an Emirates Airlines flight schedule. Along with his four Dubai Desert Classic titles, he has won the Race to Dubai five times, and the DP World Tour Championship at Jumeirah Golf Estates, twice.

“The arc of my career and Dubai in general have tracked each other pretty consistently along the way,” said McIlroy, whose winning score of 14-under-par was one better than runner up Adrian Meronk.

“I remember my first Desert Classic in '06 as an amateur, staying what seemed like out in the desert. It's probably only ten minutes away now, it's so built up.

“To think, 18 years ago, what it meant to come here and play in this event, to be sitting here now having won it four times, and all the great experiences that I've had in Dubai and the friends that I've met.

“It's always been a place where I come back to and reminisce about my career because I really feel like it's where everything started.”

Back in 2006, McIlroy revelled in his invite to play at the Classic while still a teenaged amateur. His dad was on his bag. He could visit his mate’s villa, and play with his dog and his X-Box.

And, he revealed after his fourth title win, he had even pulled a ruse to nip inside the ropes to watch his heroes in action when he was done with his own playing commitments.

“The first Desert Classic, I took a media credential and I walked inside the ropes to follow Tiger [Woods], Ernie Els and Thomas Bjorn,” he said.

“To think about even the arc of that: Thomas Bjorn is my Ryder Cup captain; I ended up buying Ernie Els's house; and I've become really good friends with Tiger Woods. It's just amazing to think back on the last 18 years and where I find myself.

“I certainly don't take anything for granted, and I always appreciate the opportunity to be able to do what I do. It feels amazing to sit here and have won that big coffee pot four times.”

Back then, his father, Gerry, had the best view of his boy on the course, as his caddie. Eighteen years on, even he has to vie for room in massive galleries, the size of which were only ever previously reserved for Woods.

Such has McIlroy’s popularity become, the masses following him around this weekend might even have been larger than any of those that witnessed Woods here.

This time around, McIlroy’s mother Rosie was back to see him. And, again, to pose with the trophy beside the 18th green.

“This is her first time in Dubai in nine years,” McIlroy said. “They also love coming to Dubai and love spending time here.

“we've got three of those pictures on the 18th green. They weren't here for the win last year, but it's pretty cool.

“From 2009 to now, and the 15 years that have passed and everything that's happened, it's still incredibly cool to be able to do those things with them.”

Updated: January 25, 2024, 7:30 AM