Nine years ago, Rory McIlroy won his first tournament as a professional, the Dubai Desert Classic, by a shot from Justin Rose. While that was going on, halfway across the other side of the world and in a different hemisphere, Roger Federer was losing the Australian Open final in five sets to Rafa Nadal. Yesterday, Federer won the Australian Open in five sets against Marin Cilic. An hour or so later, McIlroy lost the Omega Dubai Desert Classic at the Emirates Club by a shot to Haotong Li of China, who had finished third – a shot ahead of McIlroy then, too – in the Open Championship at Birkdale last July. A Rory/Roger role reversal, one might say. Tyrrell Hatton was third, two shots behind McIlroy.
McIlroy had been trying to win his first tournament since September 2016.. After a tie for third last week in Abu Dhabi, he was sole runner-up this time around. Third time lucky? We shall soon see at Pebble Beach.
“Birdieing 10, going two ahead there with Li making bogey, I thought I was obviously in the driver’s seat,” admitted the Irishman. “Then a bogey out of nowhere on 11 – just a bad 9-iron there -and the three putt on 13, those were the two key holes of the tournament, really, even though there was a bad tee shot on 16. But I tried until the very end. He played very well on the way in, birdieing three of the last four. I just wish I could get a couple of those holes back. The competitor in me is very disappointed right now. I wanted to win. I always want to win, and I just didn’t do enough when I needed to.”
For Li, it was a second win on the European Tour. “I think my game is in a good position now,” he said. “It gives me a lot of confidence back, especially after last week, missing the cut. I just want to be myself and play some decent golf in the future.” He added with a grin: “I don’t have many trophies at home, so I was quite happy to lift that heavy thing!” The victory makes him the first Chinese player to break into the world top-50.
On the other side of the Atlantic, on the other side of the United States, in the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines in California (where a playoff was halted by darkness last night), Tiger Woods finished in a tie for 23rd after a closing round of level-par 72 enabled him to finish on three under par, seven shots off the pace. He said he thought he “did pretty well”, which was nice to hear given that on Saturday night, following a round of 70 which he managed despite hitting only three fairways out of 14, he pronounced that his golf “was gross”. All considered, though, his latest comeback seems to be on track, which is also nice to hear.
Finally, back with the tennis, one wonders if Rory noticed that Caroline Wozniacki had won her first Grand Slam title in Melbourne on Saturday? On the other hand, perhaps best not to ask…
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