After a week that began with Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson re-creating shots from last year in a video entitled “The Greatest Moments on Earth," it was fitting that all three should feature in a thrilling finish to the DP World Tour Championship at Jumeirah Golf Estates.
Stenson’s stellar three wood to a couple of feet at the 72nd hole 12 months ago allowed him to round off the season with an eagle three and a six shot victory.
On Sunday, the Swede retained the title in equally memorable fashion, finishing with a brace of birdies for a two-stroke win on 16 under par from Ryder Cup team mates McIlroy, Rose and Victor Dubuisson.
McIlroy was bidding to repeat Stenson’s feat of last year and claim both the DP World Tour Championship as well as the Race to Dubai he’d already tucked away thanks to a stellar season that brought him flagship BMW PGA, The Open, the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and the US PGA.
But he had no complaints as Stenson dug deep at the finish and staked a tenuous claim for yet another plaque at the Dubai venue following his superb five-iron tee shot to a foot at the 193-yard 17th that set up a tournament winning birdie.
The 37-year old Swede had not won since he hit that memorable shot to the 18th last year — a feat marked by a commemorative plaque in the fairway.
But after a closing 70 gave him the ninth European Tour win of his career and moved him from fourth to second in the world rankings, he was not complaining that he’s unlikely to get another plaque at the 17th.
“I guess even if I won't get a plaque, it still means a lot to me,” Stenson said. “I can't have plaques on every hole.”
It was a crucial shot at the most opportune moment as Spain’s Rafael Cabrera Bello, joint leader with Stenson overnight and two clear of the field with seven holes to play, imploded down the stretch.
He’d been tied for the lead with Stenson until the Swede took an iron off the tee at the 11th and shoved it out of bounds, running up a double bogey six.
But Cabrera Bello wilted in the desert heat, making a double bogey six at the 16th and another at the 17th after successive approaches found water and he closed with a 75 to finish tied for ninth on 10 under par.
His mistakes also brought Rose and McIlroy back into the frame but neither could birdie the 18th and were left to see if 14 under would be enough for a playoff.
Stenson, dressed from head to toe in black, proved to be the man in the black hat in every sense and the birdie at the 17th allowed him to play the 18th as a three-shotter.
Having missed the fairway, he laid up and hit a 120-yard wedge to six feet and coaxed the putt home.
When someone remarked on how cool he appeared down the stretch, he tickled the media funny bone again.
“I'm the Ice Man, remember?” he said with a grin. “Of course I feel nervous. Everyone's nervous. Any one that says they aren't nervous, they are lying.”
Having failed to win this year, Stenson was clearly thrilled to end his European Tour season with a victory.
“It feels great. I'm exhausted to say the least and it was a tricky day,” he said. “On the back nine the wind picked up and I didn't play my best, and I had a shocking hole on 11 and that kind of put me back but I didn't give up.
“I was hanging in there and made a couple important par putts on 12 and 16 I would say. That kind of kept me in the ball game and hit it to a foot on 17, and had a one shot cushion up the last there and hit a lovely pitching wedge that secured it. Very pleased with that.
“It feels fantastic to have won and to do it down here in Dubai, that was such a great place for me last year, and to come back and defend was special. I never felt that it was much of an issue not having defended a tournament, but it would be a nice thing to do, and now I managed to achieve even that.
"To get a win in a strong championship, we have a lot of great players here this week, so there's always that extra icing on the cake when you win a tournament where you've got a strong field and you're up against some of the world's best.”
While he has never been world number one, Stenson’s focus now turns to winning a major rather than chasing down McIlroy in the world rankings.
“It would be a nice thing to have been ranked the world's best player at some point,” he said. “But if I got the opportunity to choose, I'll go for a major over being ranked No. 1 in the world any day of the week.”
McIlroy was disappointed not to win after opening with a 66 but he was pleased to have won the Race to Dubai for the second time in three years and to finish second to Stenson having failed to play his best golf.
“It's a great feeling to know that I've played the best golf throughout the season of any of the guys for the second time in three years, it's really nice,” McIlroy said. “It's been a fantastic season.
“Obviously the wins have been great but I think what I'm really proud of is weeks like this week where I haven't quite played my best but still be able to give myself a chance to win tournaments, and that's really what I think will stand me in good stead going forward and looking into 2015 and beyond.
“Having these bad weeks where previously I might have missed cuts, I'm still contending for tournaments and that's exciting.”
He defends the Emirates Australian Open this week and hopes to end the season with a fifth win but his thoughts are already turning to Augusta National and the chance to complete the career Grand Slam.
“Everything will be geared toward getting ready for Augusta and being ready for April,” he said. “I’m looking forward to it – I've got a chance to win the career Grand Slam at 25, so there is a lot to work hard on and a lot to try and achieve next year.”