Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 5 August 2020

UAE great sporting moments - No 17: Rory McIlroy claims first tournament at his 'home from home' in Dubai

McIlroy nearly blew a six-shot lead before defeating Justin Rose

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Each day over three weeks, The National counts down the most memorable moments in UAE sports history.

A future multiple-major champion found his winner’s flair in the Dubai desert.

In truth, it seemed a long time coming, even if the victor was still a teenager, albeit one with an almighty talent.

Back then, after a few closer-than-close calls on the European Tour, 19-year-old Rory McIlroy recorded his first professional victory.

He triumphed at the 2009 Dubai Desert Classic, in typically dramatic fashion for the young gun with the explosive game. McIlroy nearly blew a six-shot Sunday lead, but staved off nerves and Justin Rose to win by one. A future world No 1’s career had lift-off.

To be fair, Dubai always felt a natural launchpad. By 2009, McIlroy had contested the Desert Classic twice already, invited to play the event as an amateur in 2007 and 2008 – the former marking his pro debut, where he rewarded the organisers’ faith by making the cut. In the latter, McIlroy snuck inside the ropes just to catch a closer glimpse of Tiger Woods, his inspiration growing up. He counted Jumeirah Group among his first corporate sponsors.

McIlroy had come agonisingly close to victory the previous season at the European Masters and the Hong Kong Open, losing both in a play-off. As the sun began to set in Dubai in 2009, it appeared another prize was slipping from grasp.

Holding a two-shot lead at the outset, McIlroy reeled off five consecutive birdies around the turn. But three straight bogeys from 15, coupled with Rose’s rally, threatened the stars-aligned storyline.

On the 18th, McIlroy flew his approach into the back bunker and was faced with a downhill chip, the water lurking just behind the flag. However, in a show of incredible nerve, he chipped to four feet, the hush in the stands pierced by a deafening roar.

McIlroy sank the putt, and was soon joined on the green by his tearful parents.

Speaking afterwards, he said: "This win has definitely moved me up a step. I just want to keep getting better and better.”

He certainly did that. Currently, McIlroy is a four-time major winner, and golf’s world No 1. He has 27 more tournament victories.

He later told The National: “Back then, it was all about securing the first victory and proving to myself and others that I’d made the transition from amateur to professional.

“It was about providing evidence that my early potential had substance and depth when it mattered.”

McIlroy’s affinity with Dubai has maintained. He won the Desert Classic again in 2015, and the DP World Tour Championship twice too. He is a three-time winner of the season-long Race to Dubai crown.

Often, McIlroy could be seen honing his skills at the Butch Harmon School of Golf, Dubai. For some time, the Classic’s coffee pot trophy took pride of place in his living room floor in Florida.

Speaking again to The National in 2014, McIlroy described Dubai as “a special place, somewhere I call my ‘home from home’."

It will be forever remembered as the place his career ignited.

Updated: July 5, 2020 01:38 PM

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