What happened at the Dubai Desert Classic?

It was to be a ding-dong battle in the desert as Li Haotong and Rory McIlroy began their fourth and final round in Dubai separated by a single shot. The momentum would ebb and flow throughout the next four hours.

For much of the afternoon it was the Northern Irishman, who was searching for his first victory since 2016, who looked the favourite to take his third victory in Dubai. Li, who was previously best known for his third place at the Open and his mum’s retrieval of his putter in France, got his afternoon off to the worst possible start bogeying his opening hole to level things up. As the pair reached the turn, grabbing two birdies apiece, it was all to play for.

Li, though, faltered on the 10th carding his second bogey as his counterpart smelt blood. A birdie for McIlroy gave him a shot advantage and it was to get worse for the 22-year-old.

Another bogey followed at 12 to make the gap two but Li responded in fine style to level up proceedings once again holing two brilliant putts at the 13th and 15th. As Li charged McIlroy wobbled, an errant tee shot on 16 found the trees and a difficult lie saw him hack his ball out onto the opposing side of the fairway.

McIlroy, though, managed a magnificent up and down to save bogey as the advantage swung towards Li, it was the opening he needed. The pair went head-to-head over the last two holes but it was Li who took victory as he matched the two birdies McIlroy produced under serious pressure.

A fine wedge shot into the 18th meant sure that Li became the first Asian victor of the tournament, the first Chinese player to break into the world’s top 50 and he also set a tournament record lowest winning score at 23 under.

England’s Tyrrell Hatton produced a closing 66 to finish third, a shot clear of Frenchman Alexander Levy and three ahead of in-form countryman Chris Paisley.

Best quote

“If someone had 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’. But 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,” Rory McIlroy

Talking point

The cut this week came at five under as a collection of unfortunates shot well under par for two days and then packed their bags. A course measuring 7,300 yards was torn apart before the star names’ progress slowed a little over the weekend – McIlroy had reached 15 under after the first two rounds.

An obvious conclusion is that the course is set up too easy with the fairways too wide, the rough too short and the greens too soft. Then again maybe we should just applaud the players’ efforts, 15 under is 15 under and a lot of great players still failed to get into red figures. Or maybe you could just play better courses in terms of a more strategic test..

But Paul Waring, who shot two under for his first two rounds, had an interesting take on the set-up in Dubai.

Moments of the week


Best/worst mullet

What are the chances of these two having a knock together? Pat Perez, making a rare start on the European Tour, and our No 1 Tommy Fleetwood were paired together in Dubai as two magnificent/awful (depending on your point of view) manes came together in Dubai. The lack of any sideburn puts Perez out on his own while Fleetwood’s facial hair takes some of the attention away from the back curls.

If only Charley Hoffman would go back to his longer locks then we could really have the most amazing threeball of all time…

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