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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