DUBAI Looking back on a phenomenal year, golf's world number one Rory McIlroy said he had taken his game to a new level by conjuring victories when not necessarily being at the peak of his powers.
The 23-year-old Northern Irishman increased his big lead at the top of the rankings by winning the DP World Tour Championship by two shots on Sunday, capping the final event of the European season with a fantastic run of five birdies in a row.
It was McIlroy's fifth victory of the campaign and was achieved even though he had been under the weather for most of the week, fighting sunstroke and a fever.
"That's the big difference this year," he told reporters in Dubai. "When I've not been playing my best I've still been able to compete and to win tournaments.
"That's something I said earlier in the year I wanted to try and get better at. Being able to win without your best game is what (14-times major champion) Tiger Woods has done for so many years.
"That's why he's won so many tournaments. I feel like I'm definitely not at that level quite yet but I'm learning how to do it."
Earlier this season McIlroy lifted his second major title, adding the U.S. PGA Championship to the U.S. Open he won in 2011.
The big-hitting favourite of golf fans all around the world also won the Honda Classic in Florida and two tournaments in the U.S. PGA Tour's end-of-season FedExCup playoff series.
McIlroy has had such a hectic end to the year that he had not yet had time to appreciate the scale of his achievements.
"I guess the U.S. PGA is going to be my highlight of 2012. Europe's Ryder Cup win is up there as well and Dubai is probably close behind," he said.
"It's going to be nice to have a few weeks off now and reflect and think back about all the great moments of my year."
McIlroy also became the second player, after Ryder Cup team mate Luke Donald last year, to win the money lists on both sides of the Atlantic.
The Northern Irishman will return to golf at the Abu Dhabi Championship in January, another tournament sure to be billed as a showdown between him and former world number one Woods.
"Next year I'll again be focused on the majors," said McIlroy. "I won one in 2011 and one in 2012 so it would be nice to keep that run going.
"I also feel like I can improve in different areas of the game. I guess the challenge and the fun of practice is trying to get better all the time." (Editing by Alastair Himmer)