Justin Rose's blazing final round, Rory McIlroy's sublime finish and the promise of a new format all point to a bright future for the Dubai event.
Epic final day proof DP World Tour Championship is an elite event
On Saturday night, as they sat atop the leaderboard of the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai, Rory McIlroy and Luke Donald were keen to dismiss the idea that their last round would turn into a match play shoot-out.
The leading pack deserved more respect, they said. And they were right to look over their shoulders.
New tournaments and new venues need great moments to imprint themselves on the public's consciousness. And yesterday, on the 18th hole of the Earth Course, Justin Rose provided one.
Putting for an eagle three, the Englishman delivered a sensational shot that stopped millimetres from the hole. The birdie, when it came, still ensured a course record 10-under-par 62 for this fledgling tournament. And for a tantalising few minutes, it seemed he may have pulled off an amazing win.
But then McIlroy roared back. His five birdies over the last five holes secured a first win in the season-ending tournament for the world No 1 and guaranteed a dramatic end to four days of fantastic golf.
And to think some feared the event would be anticlimactic after McIlroy secured the Race to Dubai title more than two weeks ago.
One of those who wondered if something might be lost was Donald, the former world No 1, who mulled McIlroy's early victory and said: "They may want to think about adding a scenario where that doesn't happen and incorporate either a play-off system or some other way to make sure that it does go down to the wire. I think that makes it more exciting."
His wishes would later be granted, when officials of the European Tour yesterday revealed "The Final Series", a four-stop season-ending sprint intended to ensure the Race to Dubai would in fact end in Dubai.
Events yesterday, however, suggested the tournament at Jumeirah Golf Estates is capable of standing on its own as an elite event, without need of embellishment. The man who won the Race to Dubai won in Dubai, as well.
George O'Grady, the chief executive of the European Tour, said the previous system, which sent golfers to Dubai based on the whole of the season, had not much wrong with it if it ended with the world's top-two golfers leading after three rounds in the UAE.
Any talk about races or series seemed extraneous once Rose began blazing his way around the course. His round almost defied belief. Birdie, birdie, par, birdie, par, par, birdie, par, par on the front nine. He came home with birdie, par, par, birdie, eagle, birdie, par, par, birdie.
And that last hole! Rose seemed to be in Sharjah as he sized up an eagle putt, and when he stroked the ball it crawled up a hill and seemed ready to stop, but it crested the rise and curled left towards the hole and came nearer and nearer. The 100-foot putt stopped about one inch short, but it evoked perhaps the greatest reaction for a missed shot in the history of the tournament. Everyone in the crowd shouted and Rose pumped his fist as if he had made the putt and won the championship.
But Rose's tour de force seemed only to inspire McIlroy to greater heights. And those who were there to see if were hard-pressed to descry any flaw in the system.
The conditions were perfect for a memorable last day. Friday and Saturday had seen crowds of more than 20,000 at the Earth Course, with attendances not unimpressive on Thursday and yesterday, days belonging to the work week.
Yesterday, the sun shone in near-perfect temperatures. The village, with its food and beverage outlets and large television screens, was packed. And as the afternoon progressed, the attendance spiked with many leaving work early to catch the conclusion. Hospitality tents, too, were thronged with fans enjoying the view over the 18th hole.
But for all the glasses hoisted, burgers eaten and T-shirts sold, it ultimately was on the quality of golf that the DP World Tour Championship was judged. Thanks to Rose's heroics and McIlroy's genius, it passed with flying colours.
The record books will show a McIlroy win. But it is the many subplots that will be remembered by those who attended. Rose's record 62. The success of the South African pals Charl Schwartzel and Louis Oosthuizen. The participation of all 12 of Europe's victorious Ryder Cup team. And of course, McIlroy's utter refusal to be beaten.
The Race to Dubai has some distance to travel before it is classed with the world's greatest tournaments. Yesterday, thanks to a wonderful finish and the promise of an improved run-up to the finale of the European season, it seemed more relevant than ever before.
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