Fleetwood pips McIlroy at the death to win Dubai Invitational

Ronan MacNamara
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Rory McIlroy and Tommy Fleetwood (Photo by Alex Burstow/Getty Images)

Ronan MacNamara

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Rory McIlroy saw his chance to win his first event of the year for the first time in his career end in a watery grave as Tommy Fleetwood stole in with a birdie at the 72nd hole to win by a shot at the Dubai Invitational for his first win in fourteen months.

McIlroy visited the water four times throughout the week, most famously twice on Friday at the par-3 8th hole en route to a quadruple bogey but it was a hooked drive into the hazard on 18 on Sunday which put paid to his chances.

Teeing off with a one shot lead, McIlroy was unable to rescue a miracle par and a closing bogey dropped him into a share of first place with Thriston Lawrence and Fleetwood on eighteen-under. There would be no second chance for the four-time major winner as Fleetwood stepped up to hole from 16-feet for a winning birdie.

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“It’s great I was very happy with the way I played today,” said Fleetwood who closed back-to-back birdies for a 67 and nineteen-under total for his first win since the 2022 Nedbank Challenge.

“For the majority of the round it felt like I didn’t hole some of the putts I should have and being against one of the world’s best golfers in the world in Rory and the way he attacked the back nine it was up and down until the end.

“It was a sloppy bogey on 16 from not a bad iron shot and yeah birdie, birdie on 18.”

The Englishman teed off with a one shot lead as Fleetwood Mac reunited for a Sunday showdown after their magical partnership in the Ryder Cup last September.

He briefly stretched his advantage to two shots throughout the front nine but found himself one shot adrift of McIlroy after the latter roared in front with three successive birdies on 11, 12 and 13 before a bizarre three-putt bogey from two feet on the par-3 14th.

The pendulum looked to have swung again when McIlroy bounced back with a 20-foot birdie on 18 and Fleetwood clumsily bogeyed 16 to fall one behind again.

The pair traded birdies on 17 to leave McIlroy one clear of Fleetwood and Thriston Lawrence who threatened to spoil the show with a flawless 64 to set a clubhouse target on -18.

So often the bridesmaid, it was Fleetwood who had the last laugh on the 18th green to claim his seventh DP World Tour win.

“I played very well, hit it very solid, hit it distinctly average to the way Rory was playing on the back nine but I was sure of my game and it was a case of staying patient. Rory did something unexpected on 14 and the way he bounced back on 15 but for me I just stayed patient and kept playing the way I was playing.

“I’m very happy it feels amazing to win like everybody in the world of golf I don’t win anywhere near as much as I would like to. I’m so happy I came back to Dubai where I live, I had a lot of support and it’s great to kick off the year with a great result.”

McIlroy has finished outside the top 10 just three times in his first event of the year since 2008, racking up five runner-up finishes and five third places but no wins in 16 starts and this is one he let slip away throughout the week. Finding the water, four times including on the 72nd, carding a quadruple bogey, and an inexplicable three-putt from two feet.

Meanwhile, Tom McKibbin closed with a final round of 72 which included two double bogeys for a five-under total and a share of 25th place.

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