(Reuters) - China’s Li Haotong edged out Rory McIlroy by a single stroke in a thrilling final round at Dubai Desert Classic on Sunday to claim the second European Tour title of his career.
Li put on a late burst to card 69 and finish on 23-under for the tournament with a total of 265, setting a new record to par at Emirates Golf Club in the process by overhauling the mark of 22-under set by Thomas Bjorn in 2001.
The 22-year-old, who claimed his first European Tour title at the 2016 China Open, started the day a stroke ahead of McIlroy, but relinquished the lead in short order with a bogey on the first hole.
“Especially the first few holes, I was quite nervous,” Li said. “The first hole I made bogey and got to come back really quick, which was good.”
The duo then matched each other with birdies on the third and seventh, but McIlroy forged a two-stroke lead after the turn with a birdie on the par-five 10th as Li registered his second bogey of the afternoon.
The Northern Irishman was briefly pegged back after landing in the sand on the par-three 11th, but his two-shot advantage was restored when Li made his third and final bogey on the next hole.
The Chinese reacted with supreme composure in the clutch situation, going on to birdie four of his last six holes, including sinking a 25-foot putt on the 15th to draw level with McIlroy.
“The last four holes was some of the best shots in my life so far,” he said. “Happy to see I can hold a trophy here. I‘m looking forward to my first Masters.”
McIlroy, a two-time winner in Dubai, went a long way right off the 16th tee and his failure to save par gave Li the outright lead. Both men closed with a pair of birdies apiece as the Chinese held his nerve to emerge victorious.
Englishman Tyrrell Hatton finished three shots behind the leader to claim third place, with Frenchman Alexander Levy a shot behind him in fourth and another Englishman, Chris Paisley, two shots further back in fifth on 17-under.
Writing by Simon Jennings in Bengaluru, editing by Pritha Sarkar