Player of the day: Li Haotong
Who else? The 22-year-old’s poise and panache in the face of such scrutiny was a sight to behold. As Rory McIlroy went for the calculated risk from his second shot from the 18th fairway and brilliantly found the green, you sensed this was where Li would win it or lose it. He opted for safety with his second shot from the rough to leave himself a chip shot to the green. He landed it beautifully about 8ft from the hole, and kept his nerve to sink it.
Shot of the day: Rory McIlroy
It’s better to be lucky than good, they say, and never more so was this evidenced than at 17. Haotong Li’s tee shot cannoned off a tree and landed nicely on the fairway, while McIlroy’s effort landed well but rolled back and next to the base of a tree trunk. He nearly holed for a birdie that would have tied the score with his second, but his brilliant chip fell six inches shy of the hole.
Best dressed: Rafa Cabrera Bello
There’s been a dashing display of colour on show this week, with the standard set by the field on a pristinely observed Pink Friday. Carbrera Bello opted for a more daring combination yesterday of bright white trousers and a piercing blue polo splashed with white dots, complete with a yellow Titleist cap in Spanish yellow. Almost as dazzling as his closing -16 under which gave him a share of fifth.
Tweet of the day:
Delighted with 5th this week! Putter was on pretty filthy form all week…
— Chris Paisley (@ChrisPaisley86) January 28, 2018
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.
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.”