Viktor Hovland wins Slync.io Dubai Desert Classic in play-off against Richard Bland

Rory McIlroy bogeys final hole at Emirates Golf Club to miss out on shootout

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Having emerged as the last man standing on a thrilling, oscillating final day in front of vast galleries at the Slync.io Dubai Desert Classic, Viktor Hovland was asked if he had ever experienced anything like it before.

The 24-year-old Norwegian had mounted an extraordinary late surge to give himself a shot, finishing birdie, eagle, birdie.

Even then, he had to stave off a four-time major winner, and then, via a playoff, a player who is precisely twice his age. Finally, with shadows lengthening across the 18th green, the Dallah Trophy was his.

Surely, in all his time as a golfer – Hovland is in his third year on tour, after all – he had never experienced anything quite like it? Well, there was this one time …

“I do distinctly remember a little match I had in college,” Hovland said, after beating Richard Bland, 48, at the extra playoff hole.

“We used to do a little Ryder Cup [between friends]. We were basically playing for dinner, and it was kind of getting dark like this, and it was pretty feisty.

“We all didn't want to lose and I remember we were doing stroke play best-ball. They were down I think three strokes with three to go, and I finished birdie, birdie, and then eagle on the last to beat them by a shot.

“They were so mad, and it just brought me so much joy. So I do remember that one.”

Beating college mates. Beating Rory McIlroy in the Rolex Series on the DP World Tour. Same, same.

Fair to say, though, this one was a little more lucrative. Hovland is $1.36 million better off for his success around the Majlis Course. The victory also takes him up to No 3 in the world rankings.

Quite how he reached that point is still hard to believe. The free admission offered for this tournament bloated the crowds to never-before-seen levels – or at least not since Tiger Woods came and played while at the zenith of his celebrity.

The galleries were by turns rapt and stunned by what unfolded over a final round in which it seemed the leading protagonists were more intent on losing than winning.

Hovland left his push late. He made his second eagle of the week at the 71st hole he played, having striped his tee-shot 327 yards, right into the heart of the 17th green. From 33ft, he proceeded to roll in a putt which he said he might make “one in 20 times, especially as it was going both ways, and it's so sandy”.

Another monstrous tee-shot down 18 left him in prime position, with just 186 yards left to the flag. The ensuing birdie gave him the clubhouse lead at 12-under. Soon after it was matched by Bland, who finished with a brace of birdies.

Safe in the knowledge they had done their bit, each headed to the driving range – albeit perhaps more in hope than expectation they would make a playoff.

McIlroy, after all, still had 17 and 18 to play. But where Bland and Hovland thrived over the finish, McIlroy imploded. He made par at the penultimate hole then fired his second shot into the middle of the lake defending the green.

With McIlroy removed from the equation, it was down to just two. They played the 18th again to decide it. Hovland made four, Bland five.

“I didn't really think this was possible going in today,” Hovland said.

“I knew I had to shoot a really low number but a lot of things had to go my way, and I’m thankful they did.”

Updated: January 30, 2022, 3:40 PM