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McIlroy falls just short as China's Li Haotong claims Dubai Desert Classic

McIlroy took the lead early on Sunday morning but ended the fourth round in second place.

Rory McIlroy.
Rory McIlroy.
Image: Kamran Jebreili

Updated at 2.00pm

LI HAOTONG SET a new course record to hold off Rory McIlroy and win the Dubai Desert Classic.

Former world number one McIlroy has impressed all week at the Emirates Golf Club in just his second outing after a self-imposed break from the game to heal nagging injuries.

However, after roaring into contention with an eight-under 64 on Saturday, Li produced a late surge on Sunday to take just his second win on the European Tour by a single stroke from McIlroy.

Li found four birdies in his final six holes to reach 23-under for the tournament, eclipsing the previous low score to par record at this tournament held by three men – one of whom was his Northern Irish rival.

The Chinese 22-year-old led McIlroy by a stroke coming into the final day, but Tyrrell Hatton put pressure on the opening pair by carding a six-under 66 just ahead of them.

And Li seemed to be struggling with nerves, finding sand twice on the opening hole to cough up his lead with a bogey, although he quickly regained his composure and made gains at three and seven to remain level with McIlroy, who also found joy on the same holes.

McIlroy was two clear after birdieing 10, while Li could only card a bogey on the par-five, seemingly putting the Ulsterman in position for a 14th European Tour title.

The pair’s struggles spread, McIlroy bogeying 11 and Li dropping another shot at the next hole, but the Chinese found a spectacular second wind to pull clear.

Li turned his fortunes around at the par-five 13th and continued his roll at 15 and 17 before a brilliant approach at the final hole left him with a five-foot putt for the clinching birdie after finding thick rough off the tee.

McIlroy’s challenge was stymied by another bogey at 16 and a drive down the fairway on 18 had put thoughts of an eagle and play-off to mind, before his approach zoomed to the back of the green.

After sinking the winning putt, Li roared with joy, and he later hailed his efforts at holding off McIlroy.

“The last four holes was some of the best shots of my life so far, so I’m quite happy to see another trophy here.”

“It’s fantastic to play with [McIlroy] and learn a lot of things. It’s a big honour.”

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