McIlroy reflects on 'unbelievable' season
Rory McIlroy summed up his day and his year in one word in Dubai tonight - “unbelievable”.
Golf’s 23-year-old world number one finished his 2012 with five brilliant birdies to add the DP World Tour Championship to everything else he has achieved.
McIlroy needed something special after Justin Rose had produced something extraordinary – a 10 under par 62 that was not only a course record by two, but also the lowest round of his 14-year European Tour career by two.
At one point Rose had gone from six behind to two in front, but McIlroy didn’t just get the better of his head-to-head with world number two Luke Donald, he got the better of Rose too.
When a 12-foot putt went in on the final green for his fifth successive birdie he had shot a third 66 of the week and on 23 under par had won by two for a double worth more than €1.7m.
The tournament victory – his fifth of the year – earned him €1m - and for topping the European Tour money list, just as he did in America, he collected nearly €780,000.
Not that such figures blow his mind any more. The USPGA champion was playing with Titleist clubs for the last time before switching in a deal with Nike worth a reported €190m over the next 10 years.
He said: “I saw Justin make a charge – I heard the cheers – but to finish like that was great.
“I could not have wished for any better. To back up 2011 with another major (like the first by a runaway eight-shot margin) and to be part of an unbelievable story at the Ryder Cup has made it an incredible year.
“But hopefully I can emulate it or do even better next year!”
He started his burst to the line by chipping to three feet on the long 14th, pitched just as close at the next, then made a 20-foot effort on the following green.
That made him and Rose level and, with the par five 18th, McIlroy was favourite.
But he did not wait until then to go back in front, a five-iron to the difficult 17th – over 200 yards into the wind over water – pulling only six feet from the flag.
It gave him the comfort of being able to lay up on the last and to get down in a pitch-and-putt was only right and proper.
Rose’s compensation for second place in both the event and the money list race was not only the €1.2m it brought him. He is now up to a career-high fourth in the world, knocking Lee Westwood out of the top four for the first time in three years.
The 32-year-old also has the memory of perhaps the putt of the year – even if the 35-footer he sank against Mickelson on the 17th hole at the Ryder Cup wins “Shot of the Year” given the circumstances in which it came.
The one he faced from the back of the 18th green was, in his own words, “probably four Mickelsons, maybe five”, but actually estimated at around 100 feet given the amount of break involved.
It looked to be stopping on the top of the ridge, but then trickled down to the side of the hole for the easiest of tap-in birdies.
“I knew it was hero or zero there,” said the Englishman. “I was one roll away from looking like an idiot.
“I actually got goosebumps. I thought it was going to go in for a second.”
Rose played the last six holes in six under with an eagle on the 14th and four birdies, but it was not enough.
Donald finished joint third with South African Charl Schwartzel five strokes behind McIlroy, his 71 including bogeys at the third and 12th after he had gone a remarkable 102 holes on the course without dropping a shot.
The day also contained holes-in-one from Stephen Gallacher at the fourth and Joost Luiten at the sixth and when Sergio Garcia eagled the last for the second time in three days it gave him what was then a course record-equalling 64.
Rose has now set a new mark, but McIlroy is the one everyone else must try to catch in the New Year.