With the dust settling on another Omega Dubai Desert Classic, fans at Emirates Golf Club were treated to a true classic as China’s Li Haotong showed grit and desire to hold off two-time champion Rory McIlroy.
Here, we look at two winners and two losers from the final day in the desert.
Winning the tournament, a second ever European Tour victory, earning him a cheque of €500,000 (Dh2.28m) for his biggest payday too.
Add in the fact he showed tremendous fight and resilience battling one of the game’s best and posted a record score to par, it really wasn’t a bad day’s work.
Oh, he also earned lifetime honorary membership to Emirates Golf Club.
What a start to the year it’s been for the Englishman. In the last two weeks he’s entered the top-100 for the first time, won for the first time on the European Tour at the South Africa Open, finished tied for fifth at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship last week and follows it up with solo fifth place in Dubai.
He’s playing himself into Ryder Cup contention.
A marvellous -7 under par third round jettisoned the 23-year-old South African into a share of third place, alongside Alexander Levy.
All he needed was a solid final flourish to be in with a chance of claiming a third win on tour.
But while fellow youngster Li rose to the occasion, Porteous plummeted down the rankings thanks to a +2 over par 74, the worst round of any of the top 44 players.
Golf is a fluctuating game where form and luck changes from week to week, but while McIlroy, Paisley, Levy and Tyrrell Hatton backed up decent performances in Abu Dhabi up with solid showings here, the Ryder Cup hopeful floundered after finishing tied third a week ago.
The defending European Masters champion missed the cut, failing to recover from a +1 over par opening round.
Despite the excellent form shown early in the year, Rory McIlroy knows he let an elusive first victory in 16 months pass him by.
In the capital last week where he tied for third at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, he talked glowingly of his pride at returning from a three-month break in impressive form.
Here too, across the first three days, he looked in great shape. And whereas many others in his shoes would take weeks or even months to get back into a groove, the Northern Irishman had hit the ground running.
But such form deserves results. And he would have desperately wanted a third win here on the Majlis course of Emirates Golf Club.
It was his for the taking too, especially after a two-shot swing on the 10th hole which put him into the lead. He should have seen out the victory, but he didn’t quite calculate for the sheer determination of China’s Li Haotong.
The first Asian winner, a record score to par of -23 under and holding his nerve under the intense glare of two-time former champion and four-time major winner Rory McIlroy – Li Haotong’s victory at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic was utterly breathtaking.
Many may have expected the rising Chinese star to wilt under the pressure of a snapping chasing pack, which included a rejuvenated McIlroy.
One can only imagine what it must have been like for Li to try and hold his nerve on the final day, not only in the Dubai heat, but the intense glow of his more illustrious playing partner – winner of 13 tournaments on the European Tour to Li’s solitary triumph at the 2016 Volvo China Open.
But he never looked rattled, even as he bogeyed the first. A second at 10 as McIlroy birdied put the Northern Irishman two shots ahead and from there you fully expected the more experienced man to cruise to his hat-trick title and first win in 16 months.
A third bogey followed at 12, but Li then came to life, birdieing four of the last six holes to sign for a closing 69 and post a record low event total of 23-under par – beating the previous mark of 22-under shared by McIlroy (2015), Stephen Gallacher (2013) and Thomas Bjorn (2001), earning victory by a single stroke.
It’s a win that will lift the Hunan native into the world’s top 50 – making Li more history as he becomes the first Chinese player to do so – with his position expected to be around 32 when the new rankings get released on Monday.
Li, who admitted his phone had already “exploded” with messages on Saturday night, said: “It’s going to be big,” in response to a question about how big the reaction will be back home, a nation of more than 1.4 billion.
“Last night (Saturday), my phone is like, how you say, boom, it exploded. Seriously, I had so many messages, saying ‘Oh, Haotong’ and on the internet too. I don’t know where my phone is now.
“They said if I win this week, I’m going to break a lot of new records. So it was lucky I did.”
Li, who missed the cut last week in Abu Dhabi as he battled illness, will now head to his first Masters in April, having played everywhere but Augusta on his major bow last year.
“Last week I missed the cut, I had a hard time (in Abu Dhabi) but I just felt so fresh this week and it got me in very good position,” said Li, who is hoping to continue making an impact at the big tournaments, having finished tied for third at The Open last July.
“It’s definitely going to give me a lot of confidence for the next few events and the rest of the year, especially for the Masters. I’ve never been there before, I’m looking forward to those big events.”
Despite the fact McIlroy has returned from a three-month injury break in ominous form – second place here coming on the back of third place in Abu Dhabi – he was left deflated at not adding a third Dubai crown to his 13 victories on the European Tour.
“The competitor in me is very disappointed right now,” said the 28-year-old, winner here in 2009 and 2015.
“I wanted to win. I always want to win and I just didn’t do enough when I needed to.
“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.
“It’s definitely hard to take right now, that’s how I’m feeling, but if someone had have told me at the start of the year you’d finish third and second your first two events, I’d say, yeah, I’d take that.”