Li outduels McIlroy in Dubai
Strong finish sees Li reign supreme in Dubai.
Two men who finished in the top five at The 146th Open did battle in the United Arab Emirates on Sunday but eventually it was Li Haotong who edged out 2014 Champion Golfer of the Year Rory McIlroy to win the Dubai Desert Classic by a single shot.
McIlroy turned a one-stroke deficit at the start of play into a two-shot advantage by the start of the back nine but Li – who finished third at Royal Birkdale last summer – hit birdies on 13, 15, 17 and 18 to overhaul the Northern Irishman.
His final total of 23-under was one ahead of the four-time major winner, who also birdied the final two holes but had bogeyed 16 after an errant drive. Victory means Li is the first Chinese player to enter the world’s top 50.
"Over the last four holes I hit some of the best shots of my life," said Li. "I just didn't realise I could make that putt on 15. That was huge – I think that was the turning point."
Both men’s performances at Royal Birkdale mean they have already earned exemptions for The 147th Open Championship at Carnoustie this summer but McIlroy was disappointed to finish second, one week after finishing third at the Abu Dhabi Championship: "It was a couple of bad shots, a couple of poor decisions, a couple of mental errors, a few tentative putts out there as well,” said McIlroy. “Being in the positions I've been in (over the last two weeks) and having two close calls, it's a little difficult. The competitor in me is very disappointed right now."
Southgate aces challenge
Another man who has earned an exemption for Carnoustie courtesy of a top-ten finish at last year’s Open Championship, Matthew Southgate, also had a week to remember in Dubai.
Southgate, who finished tied-sixth at Royal Birkdale, fired the first hole-in-one of his professional career on Friday by acing the 154-yard, par-three eighth hole with an exquisitely-struck nine-iron.
"It was just a really good yardage for me," Southgate said. "I was aiming at the right lip of the back right bunker and, where the wind was, it was just like a perfect target. “In the air, I was saying, ‘be the number, be the number,’ and when it pitched, it was right in line with the flag. As soon as it pitched, I was like, ‘get in,’ and then it just kissed the flag and went in." Southgate ultimately finished in a tie for 57th but it was another strong week for Tyrrell Hatton, who will also be at Carnoustie next summer, as he ended the week on 20-under to take third spot.