Li holds off McIlroy to claim Omega Dubai Desert Classic

Li Haotong produced a late burst of scoring to hold off the challenge of Rory McIlroy and win his second European Tour title after a thrilling final-day battle at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic.

Li Haotong by Getty Images
 
The Chinese entered the final day a shot clear of McIlroy but trailed by two after ten holes as the four-time Major winner looked on track for a third victory at Emirates Golf Club and his 14th European Tour title.
 
Li then birdied four of his last six holes to sign for a closing 69 to beat the Northern Irishman by a single stroke, and record a record low total of 23 under par for this tournament, beating the 22 under par score set by Thomas Bjørn in 2001.
“I don’t have many trophies at home, so I was quite happy to lift that heavy thing!” said Li.
“I just didn’t realise I could make that putt on 15. That was huge. I think that was the turning point. And especially on 18, didn’t realise I would make that one, either.
“Most of the time, I was only two or one behind, so I just want to keep putting myself in a position and just not get too far away. Quite happy with what I did.
 
“I think my game is in a good position now. It gives me a lot of confidence back, especially after last week, missing the cut. Just want to be myself and play some decent golf in the future.
“It’s incredible to play with him (McIlroy). I learned a lot of experience from him.”
The 22 year old’s stunning finish further cemented his growing reputation as one of the European Tour’s greatest performers under pressure, following on from a closing 63 at last season’s Open Championship and a fourth-round 64 to win his maiden title on home soil at the 2016 Volvo China Open.
The win moves him alongside countryman Ashun Wu as China’s most prominent winners on the European Tour and he becomes the first Chinese player to break into the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking.
A clearly disappointed McIlroy had his chances to win but it was not to be as he carded a closing 69 finishing a shot behind Li.
“How I’m feeling right now, 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.
“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. The competitor in me is very disappointed right now. I wanted to win. I always want to win, and I just didn’t do enough when I needed to.”
 
“I mean, birdieing 10, going two ahead there with Li making bogey, I thought I was obviously in the driver’s seat. Then just a bogey out of nowhere on 11 – just a bad nine iron there -and the three putt on 13, those were the two key holes of the tournament, really, even though there was a bad tee shot on 16.
“But I tried until the very end. Made two good birdies. Made him win it in the end, which was, you know, all I could do. 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.”
No matter what way Rory feels today, his return to the Desert was a positive one and the W seems just around the corner.
 
Round four scores
 
265 H Li  (Chn) 66 66 64 69;
266 R McIlroy  (Nir) 65 64 68 69;
268 T Hatton (Eng) 64 72 66 66;
269 A Levy (Fra) 67 67 65 70;
271 C Paisley  (Eng) 65 69 68 69;
272 I Poulter (Eng) 68 70 65 69; H Stenson (Swe) 70 64 70 68; T Fleetwood  (Eng) 69 69 66 68; D Lipsky (USA) 69 66 67 70; D Frittelli (RSA) 69 67 66 70; R Cabrera Bello (Esp) 69 69 64 70; A Sullivan (Eng) 67 70 63 72; B An (Kor) 72 67 65 68; C Hanson (Eng) 67 70 70 65; J Scrivener (Aus) 70 68 68 66; A Björk (Swe) 65 68 70 69; R Ramsay  (Sco) 70 69 69 64; J Wang (Kor) 69 66 67 70;
273 H Porteous (RSA) 66 68 65 74; M Jiménez (Esp) 66 68 69 70; M Kaymer (Ger) 68 69 67 69;
274 A Wall (Eng) 63 73 72 66; D Horsey (Eng) 63 70 68 73; D Burmester (RSA) 67 69 69 69; A Otaegui  (Esp) 70 69 69 66; T Detry  (Bel) 68 66 69 71; S Brazel (Aus) 68 70 68 68; A Cañizares  (Esp) 67 68 70 69;
275 P Perez (USA) 69 69 67 70; T Olesen (Den) 67 68 67 73; A Dodt (Aus) 67 69 68 71;
276 S Garcia  (Esp) 67 69 69 71; T Immelman  (RSA) 69 66 71 70; M Kieffer (Ger) 70 68 68 70; B Wiesberger  (Aut) 67 70 70 69; T Pieters  (Bel) 65 74 70 67;
277 R Wattel  (Fra) 69 70 70 68; A Wu (Chn) 68 68 70 71; S Hend (Aus) 71 66 68 72; G Havret  (Fra) 70 68 67 72; B Rumford (Aus) 68 70 66 73; B Grace  (RSA) 68 65 69 75; M Wallace (Eng) 69 66 73 69; L Jensen (Den) 65 68 70 74;
278 E Molinari  (Ita) 67 69 69 73; N Bertasio (Ita) 70 69 69 70; R Fisher (Eng) 69 69 69 71; J Donaldson (Wal) 62 69 75 72; G Green  (Mas) 70 68 71 69; A Johnston (Eng) 69 66 72 71;
279 T Aiken (RSA) 67 67 69 76; S Jamieson  (Sco) 68 70 70 71; R Karlsson (Swe) 69 70 68 72; K Aphibarnrat (Tha) 71 68 70 70; A Chesters  (Eng) 70 69 67 73; N Colsaerts  (Bel) 69 68 68 74;
281 M Southgate  (Eng) 68 68 71 74; M Ilonen  (Fin) 68 70 71 72; S Gallacher (Sco) 71 68 71 71; P Khongwatmai (Tha) 68 71 71 71;
282 L Bjerregaard  (Den) 71 68 70 73; S Sharma (Ind) 69 69 71 73; M Korhonen (Fin) 68 71 70 73;
283 L Slattery (Eng) 69 70 72 72;
284 D Im (USA) 68 71 72 73; A Romero (Arg) 70 67 70 77;
285 R Sterne  (RSA) 70 68 74 73;
286 T Clements (am) (Eng) 69 70 71 76;
288 D Huizing (Ned) 69 70 77 72;
** M Pavon (Fra) 71 68 74 DQ;