Rory McIlroy made no attempt to hide his frustration after squandering a two-shot lead with eight holes to play as China’s Li Haotong claimed the biggest win of his career in the Omega Dubai Desert Classic.
McIlroy overturned a one-shot overnight deficit with the aid of three birdies in the first 10 holes at Emirates Golf Club, but bogeyed the 11th and 16th as well as three-putting the par-5 13th for par.
Although the four-time major winner birdied the final two holes, Li did likewise under enormous pressure to complete a closing 69 to win by a single shot.
Li’s 23-under-par total is a tournament record and gives the 22-year-old a second European Tour title, as well making him the first male Chinese player to break into the world’s top 50.
Li will also make his Masters debut in April and can become the third straight Dubai champion, after Danny Willett and Sergio Garcia, to claim a green jacket.
McIlroy, who needs to win at Augusta National to complete a career grand slam, has now finished third and second in his two starts since calling an early end to an injury-plagued and winless 2017 campaign, but will be disappointed at failing to convert a two-shot lead at halfway.
Asked his reaction at missing out on a first win since September 2016, McIlroy told European Tour Radio: “Yeah, p***** off.”
But he added: “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 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.”
Woodsome Hall’s Chris Hanson carded a blemish-free closing 65 to claim a share of sixth place and a cheque for €47,401, which saw him climb to 33rd in the Race to Dubai.
Hanson, who had earlier rounds of 67 70 70, had six birdies on his back nine as he came home in 31.