'Unbeatable' Rory McIlroy earns his just Deserts
Rory McIlroy will arrive in Dublin today for his multi-million euro case against a former management company, but will do so having provided incontrovertible evidence that he remains the game's best at the Dubai Desert Classic.
What an opening statement to 2015 this has been from the world No 1. Having notched up his third European Tour runner-up placing in succession in Abu Dhabi two weeks before, McIlroy arrived at the Emirates courses - scene of his first professional win six years ago - declaring that he would not be content with another second.
McIlroy was true to his confident word, beating the fast-finishing Swede Alexander Noren by three shots in a bloodless win which means he joins Nick Faldo and Severiano Ballesteros as the only Europeans in history to have won at least four majors and 10 European Tour events.
That is heady company, indeed. Yet, in truth, McIlroy is on a more convincing run than even those two greats could manage as he picked up a cheque for €378,779. The 25-year-old's last seven results on his home circuit read thus: 1, 1, 1, 2, 2, 2, 1.
Surely, if McIlroy had been so minded, he could have chased down another birdie to claim the outright lowest total in the 26-year history of the UAE feature piece instead of merely sharing it with Stephen Gallacher on 22-under.
But McIlroy was in protection mode, ensuring that his four-shot overnight lead would not be thrown away in the fashion of Martin Kaymer (who was 10 clear with 13 holes remaining in Abu Dhabi). or Charl Schwartzel (five ahead in the final round in South Africa three weeks ago). It may come as a surprise to his rivals, but McIlroy is still human where nerves are involved.
"I do still get nervous and felt I was a little tentative the first few holes out there because I guess we have seen what can happen to big leads over the past few weeks with Martin and Charl," McIlroy said, following his 70. "So, I was trying hard not to make any mistakes and am happy I was able to play a solid round."
With playing partner Lee Westwood birdieing three of the first five holes, it did appear as if McIlroy might have to do better than "solid". But the Englishman, playing in his first event of the year, took a double-bogey six on the ninth, after a visit to the water, and, in effect, the credible challenge to McIlroy ended there and then. He could simply take the pars and accept the cheers, which he did with three birdies and the solitary bogey.
Westwood finished in a tie for eighth on 14-under after a 72, with Gallacher, the defending champion, in third on 16-under.
Despite Noren's 65 to leapfrog from a tie for 19th - an incredible performance considering the fact the 32-year-old only played twice in 2014 because of tendinitis in both wrists - the Swede admitted his principle ambition was second. "I never even thought of winning; Rory's just playing too good," Noren said. As the Spanish pro Pablo Larrazabal put it: "In this form, Rory is unbeatable."
Yet from the arena which he finds so comfortable, McIlroy has to move to the alien scene of a courtroom, where, settlement notwithstanding, he will be forced to take the stand for up to two weeks.
Afterwards, McIlroy was asked if his focus would shift to the legal battle with the Horizon Sports agency and a case that could cost him tens of millions. "Give me a couple of hours to enjoy this first, will you?" McIlroy said with a smile. That was all he would be allowed as the overnight flight to the Dublin was to be followed by meetings with his lawyers and what he described as "a little bit of homework".
It is an experience he could do without, particularly with the Masters just two months away and his bid to become only the sixth player in history to win the career grand slam.
"I won't have three weeks of hitting balls I guess, but I'll have at least a good week of preparation going into the Honda (Classic, his next event in three weeks time)," McIlroy said. "I'll keep it ticking over and it will be nice to get back to the States and get in my own house and get into a routine.
"I don't mind that the Masters is still a couple of months away. I feel like I can keep this run of form going, and there's no reason why I shouldn't.
"I'm comfortable with my game, I'm happy with how I'm swinging it and it's just a matter of keeping on top of things and not getting complacent and working hard."
Graeme McDowell moves on to Kuala Lumpur and this week's Malaysian Open €44,318 the richer after a final round 70 left him with a share of ninth place on 14-under in his first event after a six weeks winter break.
Michael Hoey earned €8,636 in a tie for 53rd on four-under following back-to-back 71's at the weekend. Peter Lawrie was one further back in 55th (worth €6,790) after a closing 70. A final round 76 left Damien McGrane in 73rd (worth €3403) on three-over. (© Daily Telegraph, London)