Rory McIlroy turned his thoughts to the start of his Masters build up in the US after a poor weekend cost him his world No 2 ranking and a run at the title in the Dubai Desert Classic.
As Spain’s Rafael Cabrera Bello closed with a 68 to take the title by a shot from Scot Stephen Gallacher and a disappointing Lee Westwood, McIlroy lost his world No 2 spot to the Englishman by 0.005 points after a frustrating day on the greens.
Overnight leader Westwood finished with five straight pars for a 70 to allow Cabrera Bello to capture his second European Tour title and move from 119th to 60th in the world, clinching a place in the first round of the WGC-Accenture Match Play on February 22.
But while McIlroy stormed home in four under 33 to post a 71 and grab a share of fifth place, four behind the winner, his finish camouflaged a disappointing weekend.
Having opened with rounds of 66 and 65 to share the halfway lead with Thomas Bjorn, the US Open champion saw his title chances ebb slowly away as he struggled to a level par 72 on Saturday to fall two behind Westwood.
The 22-year old Ulsterman needed a fast start in the final round to put the leader under pressure. Instead he three-putted the first for bogey, missed at least two birdie chances inside eight feet and then double bogeyed the ninth by finding the drink with his approach.
Four back nine birdies, including two to finish, brightened his mood somewhat ahead of a three-tournament run in the US that begins with the WGC-Accenture Match Play in Tucson and then continues in Florida with starts at the Honda Classic and the WGC-Cadillac Championship.
Frustrated to take 34 putts on the final day, McIlroy said: “It will be nice not to play on Bermuda greens for one week. It was difficult out there, especially today, because they didn’t cut them down as low because of the wind. The grain was just unbelievable.
“But anyway, it will be nice. The Match Play is a nice event and a really nice course. I haven’t played that well there the last couple of years, so it will be nice to go and get a run in that.
“Two good weeks at Honda, Doral. Honda, it’s usually a tough week, wind blows there, probably similar to the way it was at the weekend here and then Doral, a place that I love to go back to. So a nice few weeks coming up.”
Cabrera Bello was two behind Westwood and tied with Marcel Siem starting the day but went bogey free to post an 18 under total. He then watched as Stephen Gallacher and Westwood failed to birdie the last to force a play-off.
The first round leader courtesy of a scintillating 63, he became the third successive Spaniard to win in Dubai, following Miguel Angel Jiménez in 2010 and Alvaro Quiros in 2011.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling and it’s been a really spectacular week for me,” said Cabrera-Bello, he began his week with nine birdies in his first 11 holes.
“With so many big, big names I felt really proud of myself. I wanted to fight, I stayed calm, I did everything that I’ve read we should do in these type of situations.”
Exempt now for the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and the HSBC Champions, Cabrera Bello added: “I really, really feel happy and proud that my name is going to be written down on the same trophy as (Seve) Ballesteros and (José María) Olazábal and Jiménez and my great friend, Alvaro.
“It’s a really amazing feeling for me to be a little bit a part of the same history they are.”
Peter Lawrie and Gareth Maybin tied for 28th on seven under after carding matching 70’s for the second day in a row with DAmien McGrane tied 42nd on four under after a 72.
Shane Lowry had a poor weekend, adding a 77 to Saturday’s 73 to share 66th on level par.