Ken Brown, the esteemed on-course commentator, called the shot “high tariff”. The lie was such that the European Tour Twitter account clipped it for a GIF.
Rory McIlroy’s drive had found the sand alongside the 16th hole and not the fairway. The Northern Irishman, a two-time winner of the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, had just watched his one-stroke lead disappear on the previous green, then sprayed right his third-last tee-shot of the week.
Attempting to cut his approach around the trees and to the green, McIlroy miscued, sending his ball across the fairway and into the left-hand rough. From there, he chipped through the green, before getting up and down for bogey.
Thus, he dropped from 21-under par, leaving playing partner Li Haotong out in front on his own. The final group in the final round then traded birdies on the final two holes. They both carded Sunday 69s. Li won by one. Having created daylight between the two at the 10th, McIlroy missed out on a third Dallah Trophy.
“From being two ahead standing on the 11th tee, to being level going into 16, I just, I don't know,” a clearly disappointed McIlroy said. “It was a couple of bad shots, couple of poor decisions, couple of mental errors. A few tentative putts out there, as well.”
Actually, McIlroy credited the narrow failure to a wayward 9-iron on the par-3 11th - “one of the poorest shots I hit all week” - that prompted a first bogey of the day, and his three-putt for par on the par-5 13th. Beginning Round 4 one back, he had earlier cut Li’s overnight lead, on the very first hole. On 10, McIlroy birdied to go clear. Then it began to slip.
“Birdieing 10, going two ahead there with Li making bogey, thought I was obviously in the driver's seat,” he said. “And just a bogey out of nowhere on 11, just a bad 9-iron. And then the 3-putt on 13. Those were the two key holes of the tournament, even though there was a bad tee shot on 16.”
He said his approach play did not generally help, either.
“I kept leaving myself in places where I couldn't give it a run at the hole because they were downhill, down-grain, downwind,” McIlroy said. “But tried until the very end, made two good birdies. Made him win it in the end, which was all I could do, and he played very well on the way in, birdieing three of the last four. I just wish I could get a couple of those holes back.”
Wouldn't he just. The conditions at Emirates Golf Club were more testing than they had been all week, with the wind whipping and flags less accessible. Yet McIlroy denied that was a factor for the lapses on 11 and 13.
“It was just one of those days,” he said. “I was sort of fighting everything a little bit.”
Searching for positives, he could at least be happy with how he has fought back from recent injury. McIlroy’s 2017 ended prematurely, back in October, when a rib problem sustained early in the season forced him to withdraw 12 months ago from both Abu Dhabi and Dubai. He battled it throughout the campaign, and subsequently concluded a calendar year without a win for the first time in almost a decade.
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However, following nearly four months out to complete his rehabilitation, McIlroy has returned to competitive golf and been, well, extremely competitive. His runner-up finish in Dubai - his sixth top-10 in 11 appearances - came one week after a tied-third in Abu Dhabi. So there has been some real good to offset the bad taste at missing out.
“Yeah, definitely,” McIlroy said. “How I'm feeling right now, if someone had've told me at the start of the year you'd finish third and second in your first two events, I'd say, ‘Yeah, I'd take that’.
“But being in the positions I've been in and having two close calls the first couple of weeks of the year, it's a little difficult. The competitor in me is very disappointed right now. I wanted to win. I always want to win. I just didn't do enough when I needed to.”