Rory McIlroy blames two mental errors for failure to win Omega Dubai Desert Classic

Matt Jones 28/01/2018
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Rory McIlroy in action at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic

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.








In truth, the 22-year-old deserved his win. After that shift in momentum to start the back nine, McIlroy should have capitalised. He didn’t and he knew it.

“Yeah, p****d off,” was his frank assessment minutes after his round.

“I mean, birdieing 10, going two ahead there with Li making bogey, I thought I was in the driver's seat and just a bogey out of nowhere on 11, I just a bad 9-iron there.

“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.

“From being two ahead, standing on the 11th tee, to being level going into 16, it was a couple of bad shots, a couple of poor decisions, a couple of mental errors, a few tentative putts.

“I kept leaving myself in places where I couldn't really give it a run at the hole because they were downhill, downgrain, downwind. I didn't really leave it in the best spots to be aggressive with my putts.

“But I tried until the very end. Made two good birdies. I 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.”

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 of 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.”


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Li Haotong holds nerve to claim Omega Dubai Desert Classic title

Matt Jones 28/01/2018
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Pumped up: 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.”

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Li Haotong delighted to hold off Rory McIlroy and win Omega Dubai Desert Classic

Matt Jones 28/01/2018
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Li Haotong poses with the Omega Dubai Desert Classic trophy

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 breath-taking.

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 previous 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 rom 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 today.

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 Lee, 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 of 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.”


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