Rory McIlroy could find little to celebrate in settling for a share of ninth place in the 25th anniversary Dubai Desert Classic.
After gaining the better of playing partner Stephen Gallacher in the first round, McIlroy had a front row seat as the Scot become the first player to successfully defend the Dubai title.
However, with eight holes to play McIlroy was still very much in the thick of the action and, along with Gallacher, was among five players tied on 13 under par.
McIlroy was effectively out of the eventual presentation ceremony when he bogeyed the next two holes, including the par-five 13th when he drove into sandy waste to find what he later described as a “horrible lie”.
Gallacher capitalised with birdies at 15, 16 and 17 ahead of a regulation par at the last, where he purposely laid up to seal a one-shot win over 21-year old Argentinean Emiliano Grillo, who had eagled the last for a round of 66.
McIlroy will remain in Dubai for two weeks, firstly working on his game this coming week at the Els Golf Club under the watchful eye of Justin Parsons, before lending support to fiancée Caroline Wozniacki who competes in the Dubai Masters.
“I just wasn’t able to play well enough to get there, and it was just one of those days,” said McIlroy.
“Anything that could go wrong, did.
“Okay. I hit a couple of loose drives, but I didn’t really get away with them. It was just stuff like that. One of those days. I didn’t get a couple of putts to go in. I was struggling to read them today for some reason, so I got [caddy] JP [Fitzgerald] to start reading them for me on the back nine and I actually started to hole a couple more.”
Tiger Woods had commented following their first round together that McIlroy had finally found the right ‘combo’ of driver and ball, although a check of McIlroy’s driving stats would suggest he has some work ahead of him with the driver ahead of his next event, the February 19-starting WGC — Accenture Match-Play Championship.
McIlroy hit 12 of 14 fairways on Thursday but that was down to just five of 14 fairways on Friday as he battled a dodgy stomach and then four and six over the weekend.
While McIlroy laments ‘one that got away’ Gallacher wrapped himself in glory moving from 67th to 30th in the world rankings and with that the assurance of contesting the pair of upcoming WGC events.
Gallacher will also get to make his first drive next April down Magnolia Lane, and while the 39-year-old Scot talked about his dream of one day competing in the Masters, he found time to praise the crestfallen McIlroy.
“Rory’s first round was unbelievable,” said Gallacher.
“I shot a 66 that day and it was like I’d shot a 75. Even Tiger, who was also in the group, for such a slight guy, Rory just hits it so far.
“I’ve never played with anybody who flights the ball as good as Rory does, so high and penetrating.
“Obviously, it’s hard to emulate the year he had the year before last but he’s still top of the world and people think he’s in a slump.
“But I’m sure he’ll be contending with Tiger for the World No 1 spot. He’s a class player”.
Indeed, Gallacher was a class winner of the 25th anniversary Dubai Desert Classic and don’t be surprised if the Scot ends up making the 37-mile journey from his Scottish home later this year to Gleneagles.
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