Rory McIlroy ended his season by winning the $8 million DP World Tour Championship – his fourth title of the year – on Sunday and retained his Race to Dubai crown to become the European number one for second straight year.
The world number three had to battle hard and then get over a errant tee shot on the 17th hole that ended in the water to beat overnight leader Andy Sullivan of England, who fought tooth and nail and forced McIlroy to dig deep.
The win was worth $3.208 million (3.02m euros for McIlroy – $1.33 million for winning the DP World Tour Championship and $1.875 million bonus for winning the Race to Dubai.
McIlroy, who will remain the world number three behind Jason Day and Jordan Spieth despite the win, finished on 21-under par 267 for the tournament.
That was one shot better than Sullivan, who added a second successive 68 over the weekend to finish on 20-under par 268.
By winning the tournament, the Northern Irish star made sure none of the permutations needed to be worked against the six other players in the reckoning for the Race to Dubai crown could work.
England’s Danny Willett (70) gave it his all, but ran out of the holes towards the end and two late bogeys meant he finished tied for the fourth place at 13-under par 275.
South Africa’s Branden Grace made a five-under par 67 to finish alone in third place at 15-under par 273.
— The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) November 22, 2015
After trailing Sullivan for most part of the day, McIlroy built a two-shot lead over the world number 53, who was looking for his fourth win of the season on the European Tour, with back-to-back birdies on the 14th and 15th holes.
But after the leading group was made to wait on the 17th hole, McIlroy failed to draw his tee shot and splashed into the water.
He pitched to nearly 40 feet from the cup and with Sullivan making a regulation par, a two-shot swing looked imminent.
However, McIlroy made what he called the ‘best bogey of his life’ to limit the damage to one shot, and secured the win with a par on the 18th.
The deficit was down to one after eight holes and McIlroy could have made the turn tied for the lead if not for a stunning chip-in for par from behind the ninth green by Sullivan.
On the back nine, McIlroy finally caught up with Sullivan with back-to-back birdies on the 11th and 12th holes
Korea’s Byeong-hun An won the Sir Henry Cotton Rookie of the Year award on the European Tour by finishing ahead of his closest challenger Matthew Fitzpatrick of England in the Race to Dubai.
The BMW PGA Championship winner however closed with a 71 and finished tied with the British Masters champion at 13-under par 275 and joint fourth.
Englishman Justin Rose, the world number five, went 12 shots better than his third-round 78 to close the year with a 66 that improved him to seven-under par 281.
Andy Sullivan, the Pied Piper of Nuneaton and his merry band of ‘Team Sulli’ are facing their biggest challenge on Saturday.
As they say, the first 54 holes of a tournament is the easy part. It become a different ballgame altogether on a Sunday, and especially on the back nine. And it becomes even more difficult when you are trying to hold off someone as hungry and intent as Rory McIlroy.
The 28-year-old Englishman is hoping to do all that armed with a smile on his face and a red-hot putter.
The flat club has really proved to be his greatest ally so far, and it proved no different Saturday, when he shot a third-round four-under par 68 to remain one ahead of McIlroy.
Sullivan edged ahead of McIlroy with a birdie on the 17th when he holed a 25-footer, and then looked in danger of dropping a shot on the 18th when left with a par attempt from 20 feet. That putt too, never appeared to be going anywhere but the middle of the cup.
The world No53, winner of three titles on the European Tour this season, said: “It would be an absolute dream come true to win when playing with Rory in the final round.
— Andy Sullivan (@andysulligolf) November 21, 2015
“I’ll try not to think about it too much to be honest. It’s great. There’s no pressure on me. I’m not expected to win, am I? No one is going to expect me to beat him. So for me it’s a nice position to be in, one in front. I’m going to go out and play golf.”
Sullivan has no doubts about his own ability to beat McIlroy, and admits he can always lean on the group of 30-odd family and friends who have followed him enthusiastically over the past three days.
“If I keep putting the way I am and hitting the ball well, I can still do it. I believe in myself, so just see, but it’s going to be a good day I think,” he said. “I’ve won three different ways this year, one in a play-off, once coming from behind and the other leading from the front.
“I’ll be trying to pull on as much experience as I’ve got. He’s got a little bit more than me, but I’ll just go out there and try and do my best and play as good of golf as I can and hopefully the putter stays hot.
“They (his supporters) are just awesome, because I think my golf was pretty flat and when I holed the putts, I really tried to use that as momentum. I know Rory will have his own fans out there, probably 90 per cent of them to be fair, but my boys make a lot of noise.”
Sport360's Joy Chakravarty looks ahead to an exciting final day at the DP World Tour Championship in which Andy Sullivan and Rory Mcllroy are set to go head-to-head for the title, with the Irishman looking to win his third Race to Dubai crown in four years.