Tue, Dec 10, 2019

Many closing holes in golf at the professional level are par 5s with mega-long carries on the second shot. It’s the best kind of closing hole. A tantalizing eagle opportunity for some of the biggest hitters in the game, but a layup and birdie try for others. Scoring opportunities on the final hole are always fun.

Rory McIlroy is one of those biggest hitters in the game, and on Thursday in Round 1 of the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai, he closed like he’s closed so many times before. From 290 yards away on the 18th hole in Dubai, McIlroy needled one to 5 feet, banged in the putt and walked away with a tidy 64, one back of leader Mike Lorenzo-Vera.

“Honestly, it’s possibly the best shot I’ve hit all year,” McIlroy said. “I had 270 … to the front, 291 to the pin, sort of back in off the left. Wind was off the left, so it was a nice one for me to just aim straight at the pin and know if I hit my little draw it should hold, but if it gets going on the wind, obviously the bunker on the right is better than the water on the left. I just flushed it.

“When I was over it, it was sort of enough left and I sort of carried my 3-wood off the deck about 280, so it was right on the limit but as soon as I hit it, I knew it was perfect. It was right out of the middle. Great to finish like that, and yeah, it was a great round of golf.”

As an aside: I could listen to the 10 best players in the world talk about their games and their shots 24 hours a day. It never gets old. Tiger Woods is the gold standard, but McIlroy is up there as well.

McIlroy has won this tournament twice (2012, 2015), but he’s never shot an 8-under round like he did on Thursday. He made one bogey, nine 3s (including on five of the last six holes) and is now poised to close out his fifth worldwide win of the year, which is something he’s accomplished just one other time (2012).

This track is one he’s owned over the course of his career. According to Justin Ray, McIlroy came in this week 129 under (now 137 under), which was 30 shots better than the next best (Francesco Molinari, who was 3 under in Round 1).

It would be the perfect ending to what has been a marvelous McIlroy season, but he has some big-time company at the top of this board. Lorenzo-Vera is 9 under, but probably doesn’t have the juice to roll with McIlroy for three more days. Jon Rahm (6 under) and Tommy Fleetwood (5 under) do though. 

They narrowly trail the leaders and are both looking to win the Race to Dubai — the European Tour’s season-long competition with $2 million going to the champ.

The event runs through Rory though, and everybody knows it.

“There’s a lot of golf left in this golf tournament and not trying to push it too much,” McIlroy said. “It’s funny, sort of counterintuitive, the less you try push it, it seems like the lower the scores are.”

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