The Dubai Desert Classic was there for Rory McIlroy.
It was there for the taking, he held a two-shot lead over Haotong Li with just six holes to play but could not close the deal.
McIlroy’s first mistake that helped open he door for Li’s second European Tour victory came at the par five 13th when he three-putted from just 35 feet for par.
Li holed a difficult birdie putt from the fringe at the 15th, from 17 feet to pull even with McIlroy. At the 16th, McIlroy made his second big mistake, the one that would cost him a shot at victory. He hit his tee shot wide left, drew a dreadful lie in the sand then hit an equally bad recovery that left him in the left rough, 75 yards short of the green. His third went long and he was lucky to save bogey.
From there, both players birdied the 17th and 18th holes and Li set a tournament mark at 23-under par, beating the 22-under par scoring record set by Thomas Bjorn in 2001.
“The last four holes were some of the best shots in my life so far,” Li said afterward. “Happy to see I can hold a trophy here. I’m looking forward to my first Masters.”
McIlroy, who finished third in Abu Dhabi last week, was frustrated afterward.
“It was a couple of bad shots, a couple of poor decisions, a couple of mental errors, a few tentative putts out there as well,” he said.
“I kept leaving myself in places where I couldn’t really give it a run at the hole because they were downhill, downgrain, downwind. So 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. 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. 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.
“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.”
LIGHTS OUT: LINCICOME GETS REPEAT WIN IN THE DARK
Leave it to the LPGA.
They finished in near total-darkness Sunday down in the Bahamas at the Pure Silk Classic, floodlights were brought in so the final group could finish.
It didn’t stop Brittany Lincicome from repeating as champion of the season’s first event.
Lincicome, who beat Lexi Thompson in a playoff last year, had an easier time this go-round. She closed with a six-under par 66 and won by two over Wei-Ling Hsu.
“My putter has been phenomenal these last three days,” said Lincicome, who averaged 28 putts this week. “I had so many great par saves and so many good birdies coming in, and I knew it was going to be tough competition playing the girls I was playing against, but by far, my putter, I don’t think I’ve putted that well for a long time.”
It was a long day for the field, most had to play 27 holes after darkness suspended Saturday’s second round. The second round of the tournament was wiped out on Friday by winds that blew in excess of 40 miles per hour on Paradise Island. Officials and sponsors agreed to shorten the event to 54-holes, a common LPGA practice.
Lexi Thompson showed no ill effects from a flareup last month with her right wrist. He closed with a 71, shot seven-under and tied for sixth.