Rory McIlroy is almost as well known for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory as he is for his stunning victory romps.
But after going stark raving bonkers by holing a bunker shot on the 72nd hole to win the UBS Hong Kong Open by two shots to revive the seemingly moribund Race to Dubai, he killed about three birds with one swing of his sand wedge.
Around 16 hours before Tiger Woods ended a two-year victory drought by finishing with a brace of birdies to capture the Chevron World Challenge with his B game, McIlroy proved that he has now learnt to get the job done when the odds are stacked against him. He showed his inner celtic tiger in Hong Kong, his hidden dragon.
On the verge of what he says was a self-inflicted physical collapse in the wake of a packed end-of-season schedule that would have killed a horse, the 22-year old dug deep into his reserves of strength and determination to put the pressure on Luke Donald in this week’s Race to Dubai decider.
A closing 65 which he completed by chipping in from a bunker at the 18th, gave him a two stroke win over Gregory Havret on 12 under par, sparking a display of fist pumping that Woods would match in the LA suburbs several hours later.
The fifth winner’s cheque of his career - €341,724 - means he is now “just” €789,789 behind Donald in the Race to Dubai. But to become European No 1 he must win the Dubai World Championship this week and hope that the Englishman finishes outside the top nine.
A few days ago it looked like mission impossible. Two Rory McIlroy wins in a row? You’re having a laugh.
But McIlroy loves to prove his doubters wrong and while he is now in that category himself as he bids to deny Donald an unprecedented, transatlantic money winning double.
“I need another gutsy performance - to dig deep and try and get another win,” he said in Hong Kong. “Even if that happens, I’m not sure it’ll be enough, but if I can produce the golf I produced this week when it mattered and really give it a good go, I might have a little bit of a chance.”
McIlroy showed signs that he could win without his best stuff when he captured the unofficial Lake Malaren Shanghai Masters last month. He earned the biggest first prize in golf - $2m - but it was a win that worth far more to him than money.
“I sort of experienced the same thing in Shanghai as I did today,” he said after coming from three-shots behind overnight leader Alvaro Quiros on the strength of 11 and half hours sleep, an adrenaline boosting 5K run in the gym and a huge helping of determination.
“To be able to win golf tournaments when you are not playing your best is what the likes of Tiger Woods did week-in, week-out whenever he was winning seven, eight, nine tournaments a year.
“That something that if you want to be a great player, you’re going to have to do. I feel as if I am learning to do that and you know this is a great win.
“To come from behind and to draw level after nine holes and then to close it out is something I probably haven’t done before.”
McIlroy said holing from the bunker for a birdie on the par-4 last hole Sunday, which capped off a round of five-under 65 for the day and a two stroke victory at the event, was his most exciting moment as a golfer.
“I just hit the perfect bunker shot,” he said. “And once it landed on the green it never looked like going anywhere else but into the hole.
“I think you could see how much it meant to me. When the ball went in the hole I think that’s the most excited I have ever been on the golf course.”
McIlroy had been struggling all week with the after effects of a bug he picked up while on holiday last month in the Maldives with girlfriend and tennis number one Caroline Wozniacki.
He had also spent almost the entire past two months on the road with trips through South Korea, China and to Bermuda.
But there were no signs of lethargy during the final round and McIlroy said he had learned a valuable lesson.
“You won’t see me going on a stretch like I have done this year,” he said. “That was just me wanting to play so there’s no one really to blame but myself in that regard. But I won’t do it again.”
If McIlroy needed any extra motivation on Sunday, he got it in spades when he awoke to discover that his world No 2 ranking was under threat from his old nemesis, Lee Westwood, who had shot a 62 in Sun City to take a seven shot lead into the final round of the Nedbank Golf Challenge.
“It definitely gave me a little bit of adrenalin and kept me going through the day,” McIlroy said. “I love Hong Kong and have wanted to win this tournament so badly since losing that play-off here in 2008.
“Another of my big goals going out was to keep myself in with a shout in Dubai. But I also knew I really needed to win to stay above Lee in the world rankings - it was nice to be able to do both.”
The tournament was a great one for almost all Ireland’s top players with the exception of Padraig Harrington.
Needing a top seven finish to make the top 60 qualifiers for the Dubai World Championship, the 40 year old Dubliner failed by a mile as he came home 51st on four over after a closing 73. Tellingly, he had 129 putts for the four rounds, an average of 32.25 per round
Peter Lawrie easily held on to his place as he closed with a 71 to finish 21st on two under and mprove from 60th to 57th in the money list.
If McIlroy was the happiest man in the Far East, then Ballyclare’s Gareth Maybin was a close second after he held on to his tour card thanks to an equally gutsy final round display.
A homeward nine of two under par saw him shoot 69 and hold on to his card by just €4,001 thanks to a cheque for €13,237.
Maybin finished one place inside the top 118 but Damien McGrane made it comfortably in the end despite missing the cut as he claimed 115th in the money list with earnings of €258,939 from his 33 starts this season.