Thursday 14 December 2017

McIlrory sees funny side after frustration in Dubai

Rory McIlroy: Missed opportunity. Photo: Getty Images
Rory McIlroy: Missed opportunity. Photo: Getty Images

James Corrigan

The relief for Rory McIlroy was that Billy, golf's youngest and cheekiest interviewer, was not there to quiz him afterwards. But this was a day of small consolations for the Ulsterman.

What a chance this was for McIlroy to put himself into contention for the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai and give himself the sniff of a win which would ensure that he starts next year as the world No 1.

Four-under after 10 holes, McIlroy was down to five-under and in sight of the leaders. But he missed chances coming in and his profligacy was compounded on the par-five last when he drove into water and took a bogey six.

McIlroy's 68 left him in a tie for 22nd, eight behind the leader, the Frenchman Victor Dubuisson, with two young Englishmen in Matt Fitzpatrick and Tyrrell Hatton alongside the Belgian Nicolas Colsaerts on 12-under.

"I turned a 62 into a 68 somehow," McIlroy said. "I hit a lot of good shots and didn't hole many putts and what happened on the 18th was the story of the day."

It was probably a good thing that Billy was elsewhere. The European Tour's promotional video of the nine-year-old asking McIlroy some awkward questions has become an internet hit. Subjects included his former fiancée Caroline Wozniacki and his reasons for pulling out of the Olympics. McIlroy laughed at the reaction it has caused.

"One of the Tour's press officers rang me last week and said, 'Look, how close to the bone can we go'?'" McIlroy said. "I said it's fine. I'll take it well. It was going nicely at the start with a couple of pictures of my old hairstyles . . . Then he got on to some other stuff and I thought, 'Oh, Christ'! . . . I had a lot of fun doing it."

McIlroy came into the season-ender writing off his chances of defending the Race to Dubai title. For that to come to pass, McIlroy needs to win this tournament and for Henrik Stenson to finish worse than 45th. McIlroy thought the former eminently possible, but not the latter, but with the back nine looming, it looked as if the Open champion would keep his side of the bargain. Standing at three-over for the day, Stenson was down among the backmarkers and peering nervously at the leaderboard. But from the 12th, Stenson birdied five of the next six holes to take himself to five-under and into the top 25. Danny Willett's hopes crashed with a 76, which left him on one-over.

So the only rival for Stenson seems to be his Swedish compatriot, Alex Noren. But to have any chance, Noren needs a runner-up place and on seven-under, he is five shots off second place.

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