McIlroy starts Masters countdown with work to do despite 65 for tied 6th in Dubai

McIlroy starts Masters countdown with work to do despite 65 for tied 6th in Dubai
Danny Willett birdied the 18th to win the 2016 Omega Dubai Desert Classic by one stroke from Any Sullivan and Rafa Cabrera Bello on 19 under. Roruy Picture: Getty Images

Danny Willett birdied the 18th to win the 2016 Omega Dubai Desert Classic by one stroke from Any Sullivan and Rafa Cabrera Bello on 19 under. Roruy Picture: Getty Images

He’s 29 under for eight rounds of golf and made 45 birdies and two eagles but Rory McIlroy still believes he’s simply knocked a little rust of his game after the first two starts of the season.

Two top 10s in two events is normal for McIlroy but he’d have expected to emerge from the desert with at least one win and heads to the US for the Masters build up with lengthy to-do list.

After making 18 bogeys and one double in his eight rounds in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, McIlroy was happy to close with a 65 and snatch sixth place behind an excellent Danny Willett in the Omega Dubai Desert Classic.

But he is conscious he has work to do to get ready for his LA-Honda-Doral run later this month and the countdown to the first major of the season at Augusta National

“All in all, it was a decent weekend and decent way to play the last 27 holes, anyway,” McIlroy said, who was 13 under for his last 27 holes. 

"So yeah, game feels in decent shape. Still a few things to work on. Struggling with the driver a little bit, so just want to try and work on that. Got a week off to work on those things and get ready for L.A. in a couple week’s time.”

McIlroy was disappointed he could only par the 18th and while his driving and putting is not 100 percent, he was happy with his chipping and iron play in the desert.

“Wedge play, short game, like around the greens has been good,” he said. “So I think those things, even if I'm not hitting it as well as I'd like, those things are sort of saving me a little bit. 

"So that's the good stuff, and iron play is pretty solid. Working on my driving and my putting. If everything else can stay where it is, I feel like I should get a good run in the States.

"I'm just looking forward to spending a week in my own bed to be honest. That will be nice for a start. It will be good, starting over there with three really good, tough events with Riviera, Honda and Doral. 

“The scoring is relatively tough in those three tournaments, so I'm looking forward to getting into that. Obviously then it’s the run up to Augusta, so it’s an exciting part of the golf season ahead.”

He added: “It’s been nice to shake the rust off these last couple of weeks. It's a good -- it gives me a good understanding of what I need to do going into the next few weeks. It’s been a real helpful exercise in that way, and it would have been nice to come away with a win. 

"But a couple of solid performances and we'll see where I finish at the end of the day. But I still feel like there’s a lot to work on going into the next few weeks and hopefully I can put some good work in next week and feel sharp going into Riviera.”

Having added two events to his pre-Mastes schedule, McIlroy reckons he’ll arrive at Augusta with just the right amount of golf under his belt

"I'm really happy with the schedule I've got. Looking forward to getting into a good run of golf. It will be nice,” he said, before reflecting on his week in Dubai.

"Yeah, it's sort of a week of what could have been. There was a lot of really good golf in there. I played a lot of great shots and made a lot of birdies, but just made a few too many mistakes, as well. 

“I’ll rue the two front nines that I played on Friday and Saturday (38 and 37). Played the combined front nine 5-over par there and if I had not of done that, things could have been different.

"But encouraged with the good golf that I've played. It's been good because I know what I need to work on over the next few weeks. Taking the positives from it but obviously it could have been better.”

McIlroy birdied the fourth, fifth and sixth to go out in 32, then came home in 33 with his openly dropped shot coming at the 12th

“I played the front nine much better, which I was delighted about,” he said. "Started the back nine well. I felt even after I birdied 15, that those three holes coming up, 16, 17, 18, if I could finish with three threes, you never know what can happen.

“I wasn’t able to quite do that. I was only able to manage one birdie over the last three. Still, I played good golf for the most part over the weekend, and I'm happy about that. Looking forward to this big run of golf that we’ve got coming up in the next few weeks. 

“I'll have a week at home, which will be nice in my own bed, a week to work on my game a little bit and get ready for the Northern Trust in L.A. the week after next, and then I think I'm playing five events in a six-week stretch, so it's a busy run of golf coming up, but I'm looking forward to it.

"I played a good round of golf. 65 around here is always good. I just left myself too much to do after the first few days. So happy with how I played today, but still feel like there’s a little bit to work on going into my next few events.”

Willett showed nerves of steel to make a 15-foot birdie on the 72nd hole to win the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, edging out his compatriot Andy Sullivan and Spaniard Rafa Cabrera-Bello by one shot.

Willett, 28, knew Sullivan was in the clubhouse on 18 under par after a four under par 68, and had just watched playing partner Cabrera-Bello tap in for birdie to reach the same score,

But he calmly rolled in his own birdie putt for a 69 and his fourth European Tour title.

Having started the day with a one-shot lead, Willett brilliantly withstood the pressure of Sullivan and Cabrera-Bello, who won here at Emirates Golf Club in 2012 and was tied second in Qatar last week.

Three dropped shots gave his rivals hope, but birdies on the 12th and 13th helped set up a thrilling finish, and he closed out in the same ruthless style that won him two titles last season en route to second place in the Race to Dubai.

Korea’s Byeong Hun An and Spain’s Alvaro Quiros both had rounds of 65 to leap into a tie for fourth, while that score was also matched by defending champion Rory McIlroy for a share of sixth place, alongside Henrik Stenson.

Danny Willett

“I’m just ecstatic. You can’t buy that feeling, coming down the back nine, the last three holes, in contention of a golf tournament. You can't pay for that experience: you've got to earn it. With all the permutations that were going on as we were coming down the last, with Sully making birdie ahead of us and then Rafa on the green in two, it’s very nice to know that I can dig deep and produce what I can when it is needed the most. You'd love to win by five or six every time you win, but when you win in that fashion, it does feel that little bit extra special. It means when the pressure is on I can produce the goods, I guess. It’s always great to come out early in the season and win. Everything I’ve done has been really good this week, and mentally I’ve been as good as I have been for a long, long time. I stayed patient and let things happen.”

Andy Sullivan

“Fair play to Danny, holing that putt - that was a tough putt. I didn’t feel like I put him under enough pressure through the midpoint of the round. I had a lot of chances and didn’t take them. The putts towards the end kept me in it, par saves, and when you hole that putt on the last, you feel you’ve given yourself a sneaky chance. But Dan is a quality player and you expect him to step up, and he did. After nine holes I said it’s going too quickly, I was enjoying myself so much. You want to bottle that feeling. It was fantastic, the adrenaline, the emotions - it was good fun and bodes well for the rest of the year. If I can just keep putting myself in that position, eventually I'll get over the line.”

Rafa Cabrera-Bello

“Overall I’m very happy. Finishing second again, it’s a great position. It’s been a fantastic tournament. I played really well and I’m proud of myself. I’m obviously disappointed I didn’t get to win, but I know that playing like this, it’s around the corner. I knew the back nine was going to be very important. Getting off to a strong start would have been ideal, but that didn’t happen, so I just stayed patient. I fought back all day long and played aggressively. I knew that coming down the stretch I could make some birdies and that’s what I did. I tried my best and Danny was one shot better today.”

Final scores:

269 D Willett (Eng) 70 65 65 69, 

270 A Sullivan (Eng) 70 66 66 68, R Cabrera-Bello (Esp) 67 67 67 69, 

272 B An (Kor) 71 67 69 65, A Quiros (Esp) 68 69 70 65, 

273 H Stenson (Swe) 69 68 70 66, R McIlroy (Nir) 68 72 68 65, 

274 H Porteous (RSA) 72 66 66 70, C Wood (Eng) 68 68 69 69, T Olesen (Den) 72 64 70 68, T Hatton (Eng) 70 70 68 66, J Luiten (Ned) 69 67 67 71, A Cañizares (Esp) 71 69 68 66, S Kjeldsen (Den) 70 70 66 68, S Hend (Aus) 71 68 66 69, 

275 M Ilonen (Fin) 70 70 67 68, B Wiesberger (Aut) 68 71 69 67, 

276 B Dredge (Wal) 70 70 68 68, G Stal (Fra) 70 68 71 67, J Carlsson (Swe) 71 67 70 68, G Storm (Eng) 68 70 69 69, E Els (RSA) 68 67 74 67, B Dechambeau (am) (USA) 70 69 68 69, 

277 B Rumford (Aus) 67 70 69 71, A Wu (Chn) 70 73 69 65, 

278 N Holman (Aus) 69 70 67 72, R Fisher (Eng) 70 71 68 69, T Fisher Jnr (RSA) 67 68 72 71, W Ormsby (Aus) 71 69 70 68, G Coetzee (RSA) 72 70 67 69, P Hanson (Swe) 67 73 71 67, R Paratore (Ita) 70 71 71 66, 

279 R Rock (Eng) 72 71 70 66, B Evans (Eng) 69 71 69 70, P Edberg (Swe) 71 72 67 69, 

280 G Bourdy (Fra) 72 71 66 71, D Horsey (Eng) 70 73 68 69, R Bland (Eng) 69 69 69 73, 

281 R Kakko (Fin) 72 69 67 73, 

282 J Hansen (Den) 72 71 64 75, N Colsaerts (Bel) 73 70 66 73, B Hebert (Fra) 69 73 71 69, A Levy (Fra) 71 69 71 71, J Morrison (Eng) 69 70 70 73, 

283 S Jamieson (Sco) 69 71 71 72, M Fitzpatrick (Eng) 73 70 68 72, L Bjerregaard (Den) 72 69 69 73, A Johnston (Eng) 73 69 68 73, J Allan (am) (Eng) 69 72 70 72, 

284 T Fleetwood (Eng) 71 71 70 72, J Campillo (Esp) 72 69 70 73, A Noren (Swe) 66 75 69 74, O Fisher (Eng) 69 71 73 71, 

285 G Havret (Fra) 71 70 68 76, P Larrazábal (Esp) 72 69 75 69, S Webster (Eng) 70 73 74 68, D Drysdale (Sco) 72 70 72 71, C Lee (Sco) 72 71 70 72, 

286 R Jacquelin (Fra) 69 73 72 72, M Manassero (Ita) 69 72 70 75, 

287 O Wilson (Eng) 74 69 72 72, K Aphibarnrat (Tha) 70 70 74 73, 

289 D Howell (Eng) 71 70 71 77, D Lipsky (USA) 68 73 74 74, E Pepperell (Eng) 70 73 72 74, 

290 E España (Fra) 72 71 76 71, L Slattery (Eng) 73 67 76 74, 

291 D Foos (Ger) 73 69 77 72, 

298 S Dyson (Eng) 68 75 76 79.