Game is back where I want it – McIlroy
A command performance by Stenson (37) over all four days at the DP World Tour Championship was reminiscent of that by a rampaging young Ulsterman in Dubai 12 months ago.
The Swede's mastery emphasised how much McIlroy's stock has fallen in a year that the 24-year-old will want to forget.
A final-round 67 propelled McIlroy into a share of fifth, alongside Luke Donald on 15-under, a €200,106 cheque edging him past Shane Lowry into 35th in the final Race to Dubai standings.
Though the rehabilitation of McIlroy's golf game continues apace, Stenson's surgical dissection of the course during yesterday's 64 in a sand-blasting breeze showed how far the Holywood native must go if he is to return to the pinnacle of his sport.
Stenson's tournament record tally of 25-under left him six ahead of second-placed Ian Poulter, who also finished runner-up in the Race to Dubai after three typically combative top-five finishes in the final three events of the season.
McIlroy's efforts were modest by comparison but he was encouraged by "a lot of progression in the last few tournaments, a lot of positive signs. If I can just score a little better, not waste too many chances, I feel I'm hitting enough good shots and making enough birdies".
Yet he has also been beggared by loose play, especially in his short game. Yesterday he opened with bogey and followed up with an infuriating dropped shot at the par-five second where "I hit it greenside in two and made six from there".
"When I eradicate some of the sloppy shots and those mistakes, the expectations will be very high," he added.
As for his year, McIlroy admitted: "As a whole, it's been disappointing, not the season I wanted ... I'm happy that the European Tour season of 2013 is officially over.
"Honestly, I think I've learnt a lot of things this year. It has been a very transitional year with a lot of stuff going on, new equipment, a few things off course that haven't really helped either. For the most part, I'm just really happy that my game is back where I want it to be, and that's all I really care about."
After relatively impressive back-to-back 68s, it appeared as if G-Mac had found the measure of the Earth Course but 65 putts over the weekend, including 33 during yesterday's 71, left him tied 17th on nine-under (worth €85,739).
So after a splendidly erratic season, in which the Portrush ace followed up victory at the PGA Tour's RBC Heritage in April by winning the Volvo World Match Play and French Open titles, McDowell finished fourth in the Race to Dubai, earning a $375,000 bonus.
After playing his first eight holes in four-under yesterday, the complexion of Lowry's final-round 71 changed utterly with an inglorious double-bogey six at the testing 12th. "I actually played lovely but that hole just killed my momentum," he explained.
A tie for 39th on one-under boosted Lowry's income this year by €34,435 to €834,043.
When it comes to money, however, Stenson is the king. Including a $10m FedEx Cup jackpot and a $1m Race to Dubai bonus, he earned a staggering $19,423,896 on the course this year.
The turnabout in Stenson's game was equally dramatic as he rose from 230th in the world less than two years ago to third on the back of four victories worldwide in the past 12 months, including the 'Tour Championships' on either side of the Atlantic.
Notably, he also won a $100 bet from Poulter and considerable bragging rights. Stenson had offered Poulter 10/1 against him taking his lead in the Race to Dubai, saying he would also serve the Englishman drinks for an evening.
When Poulter appeared at the 18th with a towel over his forearm, winner Stenson beckoned him to mop the bubbly water (champagne is not permitted here) from his face. After Poulter did so, Stenson said: "This is the right way round ... you are my servant now." The Englishman burst out laughing, but Stenson was master of all he surveyed.