Rory McIlroy might have finished two shots ahead of an expectorating Tiger Woods but there wasn’t a tweet out of the Holywood starlet after a bitterly disappointing weekend performance in the Dubai Desert Classic.
He did speak, however, after weekend rounds of 75 and 74 left him just inside the top 10 but still waiting for his third win as a professional.
“It was a very disappointing final day and to shoot a 74 was a tough pill to swallow,” McIlroy said. “Two top-10s in the Middle East swing should be good in anyone’s book so overall I have to be pleased.”
He shouldn’t be quite so pleased. Yes, he showed patience on Saturday to remain in the hunt but he was never in the mix when it counted on Sunday as he made two bogeys and a birdie in his first four holes and then made three bogeys in a row from the 14th when birdies were required.
He might be happy to have finished a distant second to Martin Kaymer in Abu Dhabi and tied 10th in Dubai but McIlroy knows that his wind game is not up to scratch and his pressure putting still needs work.
As Alvaro Quirós proved he is something more than a bomb and gouge merchant by etching out an unbelievable one-shot victory over Anders Hansen and James Kingston, McIlroy was just one of the big names taken down a peg or two by the world’s hardest ‘game’.
The event was trumpeted as the tournament that would reveal the identity of real world No 1 with Lee Westwood grouped with No 2 Martin Kaymer and No 3 Woods for the first two days. But it only showed us that golf lacks a single, dominant force.
Woods got the better of his staged skirmish with Westwood and Kaymer and went into the final day just a shot behind crown prince McIlroy, the South African journeyman Thomas Aiken and Hansen, the veteran Dane with three wins in 15 years on tour. Four shots covered the top 25.
In the end, McIlroy was the only player for the world’s top 20 to finish inside the top 10. As Kaymer came home tied for 31st, Woods bogeyed the second and third, bounced back with a couple of birdies and then wilted in the desert wind with a 75 that left him tied for 20th.
A bogey at the 12th, where he spat on the green, signalled the end and while he birdied the 13th, he bogeyed the 14th and took a seven at the last when he screwed a wedge back into the lake
Bad week but a lot of postives Tiger?
“Yeah, there were quite a few positives this week. Also a couple glaring examples of what I need to work on, which is good, and I’ll go to work next week,” Woods said in a post round scrum lasting just over two minutes. “It’s just like anything, all of my old feels are out the window when the wind blows, so that’s the thing when you’re making change. I went through this with Butch and I went through this with Hank. It’s fine when the wind is not blowing, but when I have to hit shots and the wind blows, the change of feels and the new swing patterns, they get exposed.”
Who knows how long it will take him to turn it around but whatever about the sorry state of his swing, Woods is more mentally fragile than he has ever been during his career. Then there’s the world No 1.
Having escaped from Woods on Friday evening, Westwood played well on Sunday charged up the leaderboard. He needed a birdie-birdie finish to set a 10 under par target that might have given the leaders food for thought.
But he finished 6-6 instead, tangling with a palm tree at the 17th before duffing a wedge into the lake at the 18th to post a 72 that left him tied for 15th on five under.
He blamed an amateur photographer with an iPhone for shattering his already fragile concentration as he stood over his third shot to the 18th. He was unlucky, he said. But he wasn’t happy.
Q. How do you assess Tiger’s performance? You obviously saw him up close for first two weeks, but there have been flashes of how good he was in the past here.
LEE WESTWOOD: He’s not going to ask me about Tiger, having stood here finishing 16th.
Q. I was afraid I mean, coming out of this, I mean, you know, you seem a little bit frustrated, Friday and Saturday?
LEE WESTWOOD: Yeah.
Q. You know what I mean, as you come out of here what, do you need to work on?
LEE WESTWOOD: Just the things I’m working on. I’m gradually getting back into it and gradually starting to feel my swing. These are tough conditions this week. And hit the ball pretty good today. Drove it okay. I still enjoyed playing even though finished in a bit of an ambulance at the end there. One of them things. Better to have bad luck this week than a Major Championship; optimistic.
While all this was going on, Quirós went out and won the tournament with a weird and wonderful performance. Just a week after being denied by Thomas Bjorn in Qatar, he chipped in for eagle at the second and birdied the third and fifth to take the tournament by the scruff of the neck.
A stroke off the lead overnight, the Spaniard was suddenly in command but then racked up a triple bogey seven at the eighth where he drove into a bush and took a penalty drop. His drop plugged in the desert sand and he buried his third in a palm tree 60 yards ahead, forcing him to take another penalty drop.
Despite walking off with a seven, he saw that he was still in second place and vowed to keep his head down. A birdie followed at the ninth before he pulled off the shot of the season so far at the par three 11th, where he holed out with a wedge for an ace that put him clear again.
Three putts at the 14th left Hansen in front. But Quiros made a great birdie at the 16th, parred the last two holes and then looked on as the Dane twice came up short with birdie putts on the last two greens.
He’s now 21st in the world but he knows he’s a flawed genious who must start cutting out the errors if he is to improve his abysmal record in majors.
This is my target; to improve in the Majors, because as you can see, my numbers in the Majors are really bad. I think I made two cuts in eight Majors. So I can’t expect to win a major doing two cuts in eight. So, we will see.
As for Sergio Garcia, the torubled Spaniard birdied the first to lead the tournament but bogeyed the fifth and tripled the ninth en route to a 75 that left him tied with Woods in 20th place.
He showed signs of life in Dubai but like Woods, it is impossible to say just when he might return to his old self.