Rolex Series

Rory McIlroy - Where it all started in Dubai

By Mathieu Wood

Some players have a special affinity with certain events and Rory McIlroy falls into that category when it comes to the Hero Dubai Desert Classic.

Since his debut as a 16-year-old amateur in 2006 to his lofty status as the current World Number One in the Official World Golf Ranking, McIlroy has created some marvellous memories at Emirates Golf Club over the years.

Having won the Dubai Desert Classic twice, in 2009 and 2015, the four-time Major Champion arrives this week looking to join Ernie Els as the only other player to become a three-time winner.

Not only that, the 33-year-old is bidding to land an elusive first Rolex Series title.

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Rory McIlroy is making the 13th appearance of his career at the Hero Dubai Desert Classic

Last year, the Dubai Desert Classic was elevated to a Rolex Series event, joining the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, Genesis Scottish Open, BMW PGA Championship and DP World Tour Championship.

McIlroy finished third at the Majlis Course 12 months ago, missing out on a play-off by one stroke as Viktor Hovland won the title.

Despite his last appearance ending in frustration, his enviable record in the event coupled with finishing last year as European Number One for the fourth time means he will tee it up on Thursday confident in his chances of winning for a third time.

After all, this is the tournament that kick-started his professional career. In 2009, it was here that as a 19-year-old he claimed his first DP World Tour title.

A final-round two-under-par 70 saw him complete a wire-to-wire victory, with his 19 under total one stroke better than fellow future Major Champion Justin Rose.

At 19 years and 273 days, McIlroy became the event’s youngest winner, beating the previous record of England’s David Howell, who had won the 1999 edition when he was 23 years and 236 days old.

His victory came only three years after his tournament debut which was one of the first events he played on Tour.

After his first round in 2016 he got hold of a media credential to get inside the ropes and watch Tiger Woods, who went on to beat Els in a play-off that year, in his pomp.

Between 2010 and 2014, McIlroy recorded four further top tens in the event and won four Major Championships, before he regained the famous Dallah trophy in 2015.

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McIlroy celebrates with the trophy after his triumph at the Emirates Golf Club in 2015

Coming into the event seven years ago, he was on a run of three consecutive runner-up finishes on the DP World Tour.

He halted that sequence of results in some style with a three-shot win, seizing control of the tournament with a six-under-par 66 in the third round.

Another top ten would follow as defending champion in 2016, before a rib injury forced him to pull out in 2017.

His return in 2018 nearly saw him draw level with Els. He held a two-shot lead with eight holes to play of the final round but was unable to capitalise as China’s Li Haotong celebrated the biggest win of his career.

In his eight appearances between 2010 and 2018, McIlroy was a remarkable 118 under par.

After a four-year absence from the event, he returned in 2022 but again suffered disappointment.

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Since 2008, McIlroy has not finished outside the top ten at the Dubai Desert Classic

Holding a share of the lead on the tee at the par five 18th hole, McIlroy hit his second shot into the water and was unable to make his par putt to force a play-off with Hovland and Richard Bland.

In his 12 appearances at the Dubai Desert Classic, his third-place result 12 months ago was his ninth top-ten finish.

Could this week be lucky number 13?

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