China's emerging star Li Haotong beats McIlroy to Dubai title

McIlroy was two shots clear with eight holes to play and had his first title in 15 months in his grasp.

China's Li Haotong displayed nerves of steel to beat Rory McIlroy in a head-to-head battle and win the $3 million Dubai Desert Classic on Sunday.

Credit the dogged Li, who put together an impressive run of four birdies in his last six holes to take full advantage and become the first Asian to win this prestigious event, the oldest on the Desert Swing. "Happy, incredible", he replied to being asked to describe his emotions.

Li's second European Tour win will lift him to around 32nd in the world rankings, making him the first Chinese player to break into the top-50.

That he didn't was more down to his own slackness than that strong finish by his playing partner. McIlroy was again profligate with short iron in hand at the par-five 13th.

Porteous joined him with three birdies in his last three holes.

On the par 5 18th hole, McIlroy held the advantage when he hit the green in two.

Li rolled in a six-foot birdie at the 17th to match McIlroy's kick-in gain and keep his one-shot cushion at the last, where he found rough off the tee and elected to lay up.

It was turning out to be a sort of a dream comeback for the Northern Irishman after he finished tied for third at the Abu DHabi HSBC Championship in Abu Dhabi and slow-burning his way into contention for the Omega Dubai Desert Classic.

"It was just one of those days", he said.

"I don't know, it was a couple of bad shots, a couple of poor decisions, a couple of mental errors and a few tentative putts". Hit a lot of really good putts that didn't go in where yesterday they all went in. But I tried until the very end, made two good birdies and made him win it in the end.

"The first hole I made bogey and got to come back really quick, which was good".

"In previous years, I've had seven people staying at my house and rented another house for 10 others".

"If someone had told me at the start of the year "You'll finish third and second your first two events" I'd say, 'Yeah, I'd take that, '" McIlroy said. "Having two close calls the first couple of weeks of the year, it's a little hard".

He'll be bitterly disappointed about not seeing the competition out after leading by two shots at the halfway mark.

"I just wanted to play by myself and play my game". I just need to figure out how to play the front a bit better.

  • Stacy Allen