Most golfers would be pleased to finish third and second in their first two starts after a three-month break.
Not Rory McIlroy. And especially not after his second successive Sunday afternoon letdown.
The Co Down man confessed he was “pissed off” to lose a two-shot lead over China’s Li Haotong with just eight holes to go in the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, finishing a shot behind as the 22-year from Shanghai birdied four of the last six holes to win by a stroke on 23-under par.
It speaks volumes for McIlroy’s ability that Li had to shoot the lowest four-round aggregate in the history of the event and hole crucial birdie putts at the 15th, 17th and 18th to become the first Chinese player to break into the world’s top 50.
But if you think McIlroy was pleased to shoot 40 under par for his first two events in 2018, averaging 67 per round, think again.
“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,” McIlroy said after matching Li’s closing 69.
“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.”
While he surpassed his expectations by making two eagles and 44 birdies during the Desert Swing, moving back to eighth in the world rankings, McIlroy’s competitive spirit would not allow him to immediately shrug off yesterday’s back nine, rusty or not.
After the cut fell at a record low of five under par, leaving Graeme McDowell and Paul Dunne twiddling their thumbs for the weekend on four-under, McIlroy shot 68 on Saturday to be just one behind Li going into the final round.
When the tall Chinese golfer made a nervy bogey at the first, allowing McIlroy to draw level, few would have bet against the Irish star.
Even after they matched birdies at the par-five third and par-three eighth, McIlroy appeared destined to win the famed Dallah (the tournament’s Arabic coffee pot trophy) for the third time when his approach to the ninth kicked down towards the lake and stopped inches short.