Viktor Hovland produces final-day charge to win Dubai Desert Classic
Viktor Hovland produced a final-day charge to win the Slync.io Dubai Desert Classic in a play-off after Rory McIlroy blew his chances on the last hole.
The Norwegian world number five came from six shots back overnight to force a sudden-death decider before edging out Englishman Richard Bland on the first extra hole.
McIlroy had looked to have the tournament within his grasp, holding a share of the lead heading down the stretch with his closest rivals having all finished.
Yet, after scrambling a par following a poor tee shot at the 17th, he then found the water on the par-five 18th and suffered a costly dropped shot.
The bogey meant he signed for a 71 and finished on 11 under, one behind Hovland and Bland, who went on to replay the 18th.
Hovland played it superbly and sealed victory, his first in a Rolex Series event, with a two-foot birdie putt.
“This is pretty wild, I didn’t really think this was possible going into today,” Hovland told Sky Sports in an interview which, by chance, was conducted by Bland’s coach – and TV presenter – Tim Barter.
“I knew I had to shoot a real low number but a lot of things had to go my way. I’m thankful that it did.
“I was fuming after the three-putt on 15. I felt that was it. I just had to try to finish off well and I rolled a really long one in on 16 and then, on 17, hey, we got a shot.
“I’m pumping right now. It’s a bit surreal.”
The 24-year-old began his round way off the pace but, on a day of tension and drama, he put himself among the contenders with four birdies on his front nine.
His hopes took a knock as he bogeyed the 15th but he then surged into a share of the lead on 11 under with stunning back-to-back efforts on his next two holes.
He first holed a 35-foot birdie putt at the 16th and then eagled the par-four 17th after a brilliant tee shot onto the green.
This coincided with third-round leader Justin Harding all but seeing his hopes disappear with a triple-bogey at the 11th.
McIlroy was still looking strong, however. Two behind Harding overnight, the Northern Irishman had had a wobble himself after being forced to take a drop on the 10th, but he recovered to salvage a bogey and then birdie the 11th. He then responded to Hovland’s charge by picking up another shot on the 13th to move one ahead.
Hovland, further ahead on the course, was not done yet, though, and he claimed another birdie on the last to record a 66 and set a clubhouse target of 12 under.
This was later matched by Bland, who – after three successive birdies around the turn – had put himself within striking distance and quietly kept himself in the picture.
After a steady back nine, the 48-year-old then finished strongly with clutch birdies at the 17th and 18th to join Hovland with a 276 aggregate.
McIlroy, however, still had the closing holes to play and the tournament seemed to be his for the taking.
Yet he was unable to edge ahead and began to lose his shape as a wild drive at the 17th put him in thick rough. From there he could only knock towards the fairway and it took a superb approach shot to ensure he saved par.
He did not make the most of that reprieve as he found the lake with his second shot on the closing par five. He still gave himself a chance of a five as he found the green with his fourth shot, but he could not make the lengthy putt.
That left Hovland and Bland, who is enjoying a late career renaissance after his victory at last year’s British Masters, to fight it out. Hovland held his nerve and Bland, despite an excellent chip onto the green, was unable to match the Norwegian’s birdie.
England’s Sam Horsfield and Tyrell Hatton were in a group of five to finish on eight under, along with Harding. Tommy Fleetwood faded to finish six under alongside last year’s winner Paul Casey.
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