Saturday 16 December 2017

McIlroy well runs dry on historic day for Donald

Luke Donald with the Race to Dubai Trophy after finishing third in the Dubai World Championship to secure his Order of Merit title on the Earth Course at the Jumeirah Golf Estates in Dubai
Luke Donald with the Race to Dubai Trophy after finishing third in the Dubai World Championship to secure his Order of Merit title on the Earth Course at the Jumeirah Golf Estates in Dubai


STRONG Irish sub-plots abounded on the Earth Course yesterday as England's man of iron Luke Donald etched his name into golf history and Spain's desert fox, Alvaro Quiros, sealed his second victory in Dubai this year in stunning fashion.

The end of his competitive year couldn't come quickly enough for Rory McIlroy, whose hopes of overtaking Donald in the Race to Dubai had expired before yesterday's final round, which he completed in a jaded-looking 71 strokes for a share of 11th on nine-under with Graeme McDowell.

So, the honour of being Ireland's top finisher at the Dubai World Championship fell to Shane Lowry.

The Clara champion (24) brought his first appearance at Europe's end-of-season showpiece to a satisfying conclusion in a share of eighth place on 11-under alongside Robert Rock, the Englishman he'd beaten in a play-off for the 2009 Irish Open title.

Lowry's stunning success as an amateur that May at rain-doused Baltray is one of the most remarkable recent chapters in the tale of the Irish Open, which is set to take a new twist in 2012 as the Tour's search for a title sponsor continues.

Officials insisted in Dubai yesterday that a final decision had not been reached on a venue for Ireland's premier golf championship in 2012, but it now seems certain to leave Killarney after two highly successful visits to the shores of Lough Leane.

Scheduled to move to the weekend of June 25 to July 1 next summer, I understand the event will return to the Dublin area for the first time since 2006 because of the greater commercial potential for staging a major tournament near the capital.

After his stunning chip-in from the bunker for last week's victory at the Hong Kong Open, McIlroy needed to win in Dubai to knock Donald off the top the Order of Merit.

However, exhaustion after a recent bout of dengue fever, and 11 consecutive weeks on the road, left the 22-year-old with too little in the tank, clearing the way for Donald to enter the annals as the first man to top the official Money List in the US and Europe in the same year.

Physically, McIlroy's at such a low ebb that he's been advised to take complete rest over the next few days and not even fly home to Ireland, leaving Bangkok and this week's inaugural Thailand Golf Championship completely out of the question.

"The doctor advised me not to bother getting on a flight for a few days, just stay in the one place for a while and chill out," he explained.

"I think this week was one too many and next week would have been a really big struggle."

McIlroy, who earned ¿105,181 for finishing 11th in the tournament and ¿830,380 for second in the Race to Dubai to boost his European earnings to over ¿4m in 2011, will spend the next few days in Dubai with girlfriend and tennis ace Caroline Wozniacki before heading home for Christmas.

McIlroy will not blow the dust off his golf clubs until January 12, when he returns to Dubai to begin preparing for his showdown the following week with Tiger Woods in the first event of the new season, the Abu Dhabi Championship.

"This year has been a massive step in the right direction for me," said Ireland's World No 2, who captured his first Major title, last June's US Open, in record-breaking fashion at Congressional.

Though he thrashed Donald by six strokes with a sparkling 66 on Thursday, McIlroy clearly began to lose his usual edge with around six holes to go on Friday and he still looked lethargic on the front nine on Saturday.

"I played the last two holes on Friday and the first seven on Saturday in five-over," he conceded.

"Even if I'd played them in level par, I'd have been in a great position going into the final round. That's where the tournament really got away from me."

Donald (34) wasn't under anywhere near as much pressure during yesterday's final round of the European Tour season as he had been in the US, where he shot a stupendous 64 on Sunday to win the Disney Classic and pip Webb Simpson at the post.

Still, he needed to show a good deal of his famous mental resolve to shake off Thursday's pounding and play the final three rounds on the Earth Course in 16-under, good enough for third, three behind Quiros.


"When I looked at the leaderboard at 13 and couldn't see Rory's name there, I kind of knew I'd made history and the last six holes were surreal. The pressure just melted away," said Donald, who finished with a hat-trick of birdies to give Quiros and his duelling partner in the final group, Scot Paul Lawrie, food for thought.

Quiros then simply obliterated any doubts about the tournament result when he holed a raking, big-breaking 45-foot putt for eagle at 18 to clinch the ¿922,465 winner's cheque, the biggest of his career.

The garrulous Spaniard (28) has won three of his six European Tour titles in Arabia, including the 2009 Qatar Masters and February's Dubai Desert Classic, where, in typical theatrical fashion, he had a hole-in-one and lost his ball up a tree in the final round.

Lowry wore a smile of quiet satisfaction as he picked up his third-biggest cheque of the season, ¿143,933, after yesterday's 69, his fourth sub-par round of the championship, underlining just how comfortable the Offaly man has become in this exalted company.

"I don't want to sound cocky, but even when I was warming up on the range this morning beside Louis Oosthuizen, Luke Donald, Charl Schwartzel and Rory (McIlroy), I just felt like I belong in tournaments like these," he said. "It's a good feeling to have."

Looking ahead to 2012, Lowry added: "At the end of the year I've played some great golf, but I've been very inconsistent and have missed a lot of cuts.

"So, I'll just try and get a bit of consistency back into my game for next year."

Darren Clarke, meanwhile, finished last of the 57 finishers after his closing 76 left him on 11-over par.

Clarke collected ¿17,161 for his efforts, but earned an added 'Christmas bonus' in the form of ¿193,755 which he received for finishing 11th overall in the Race to Dubai standings.

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