Dubai Desert Classic 2016
Round 4 - Danny Willett holds on to claim narrow victory
February 8, 2016
Overnight leader Danny Willett battled hard to hold on to his lead on Sunday and got his reward with a final green, one shot win in the $2.5 million Dubai Desert Classic.
At the Emirates Golf Club, the Englishman was finally caught up by the unrelenting chasing pack of Andy Sullivan and Spain's Rafael Cabrera-Bello on the 18th hole.
But the world number 20 stepped up and made a pressure-packed 15-feet birdie putt to win his fourth European Tour title.
Willett, who had opened up a three-shot lead mid-way through the front nine, had to battle hard on the back nine.
And as his rivals started making more birdies on the easier back nine, Willett had to grind out pars to stay ahead.
Sullivan, who had finished second in Dubai less than three months ago to Rory McIlroy in the DP World Tour Championship, made a birdie on the difficult par-3 15th hole, and then saved remarkable pars on the 16th and 17th holes after hitting errant drives.
But when it mattered the most on the 18th hole he hit a superb wedge third shot that spun back several yards and left him with a curling 12-feet birdie putt to get to 18-under par.
Sullivan did that to finish with a four-under par 68, and was joined at 18-under par moments later by Cabrera-Bello.
The Spaniard birdied the 17th hole and hit two towering shots to set up an eagle putt from the back of the green.
However, his effort from 35 feet just slid past the hole, leaving him with a tap-in birdie.
Willett hit a good tee shot on the 18th, but rolled into the rough and had to lay up with his second.
The approach shot wasn't the best and left him with a testing 15 feet downhill putt to win the tournament outright, but he nailed it right in the middle.
Willett, who is expected to move into the top-15 of the world rankings for the first time in his career with the victory, said: "It's always great to come out early in the season and win.
"Everything I've done has been really good this week, and mentally I've been as good as I have been for a long, long time.
"I stayed patient and let things happen. It's very nice to know that I can dig deep and produce what I can when it is needed the most.
"You'd love to win by five or six every time you win, but when you win in that fashion, it does feel that little bit extra special.
"It means when the pressure is on I can produce the goods.
Sullivan felt he did not do enough in the middle of the round and said: "Fair play to Dan, holing that putt, that was a tough putt.
"I didn't feel like I put him under enough pressure through the midpoint of the round. Had a lot of chances and didn't quite take them."
World number two Rory McIlroy finished with a seven-under par 65 round, but that was good only for tied sixth place at 15-under par 273 alongside world number six Henrik Stenson (66).
And McIlroy, who could only make a par on the par-5 18th hole, said: "It was okay I guess. Sort of got it going today a little bit better and played the front nine better.
"Played nicely for the most part but disappointed about the 18th. I made a wrong decision off the tee by not hitting the driver.
"But all in all, it was a decent weekend and decent way to play the last 27 holes, anyway.
"The game feels in decent shape. Struggling with the driver a little bit, so just want to try and work on that.
"Got a week off to work on those things and get ready for LA in a couple weeks time."
Spain's Alvaro Quiros and Korea's Byeong Hun-An were tied fourth at 272 with identical rounds of seven-under par 65 each.
Round 3 - Danny Willett takes over lead with a 65
February 7, 2016
Danny Willett shot a sparkling third-round 65 to lead the Dubai Desert Classic on Saturday and Rory McIlroy stayed in contention to retain his title with a late surge.
The world number two conjured up six birdies over the closing holes to finish on eight under par, eight strokes behind Willett and seven adrift of Spain's Rafael Cabrera-Bello.
Briton Andy Sullivan was a shot back in third, one ahead of Dutchman Joost Luiten.
Willett, runner-up to McIlroy in last season's Race to Dubai, fired a second successive 65 at Emirates Golf Club to move to 16 under par, sinking a superb 30-foot eagle putt at the 13th.
"I kept the ball under fantastic control with some crosswinds, did everything right really. A couple of hiccups in there today where it could have been a little different and kept the head on and kept moving forward," the 28-year-old told the European Tour website.
"I think mentally I feel like I'm very much in control of myself, which obviously helps."
A double-bogey on the ninth looked to have ended McIlroy's victory hopes but the Northern Irishman birdied three of his last four holes for a 68 that give him an outside chance of winning the tournament for the third time.
South African Ernie Els, like McIlroy a four-times major champion, struggled in a round of 74 and finished on seven under par.
Round 2 - Ernie Els moves in to contention
February 6, 2016
Ernie Els surged into contention Friday at the Dubai Desert Classic, while Rory McIlroy struggled just to make the cut.
The 46-year-old Els, who has dropped to 205th in the world after struggling with yips over the past year, shot a 5-under 67 to move to within one shot of the lead at the halfway stage of a tournament he has won three times.
Spain's Rafael Cabrera-Bello, winner here in 2012, shot his second consecutive 67 to grab a one-stroke lead heading into the weekend.
Els, who was tied with compatriot Trevor Fisher Jr. and England's Danny Willett at 9-under, made several crucial par putts to keep a bogey-free round.
''It's an exact turnaround from a couple weeks ago where I was dreading to get on the greens,'' he said. ''I'm actually enjoying it on the greens. The surfaces are just unbelievable and I've got a lot more confidence in the stroke and in the setup and all of that stuff. It has almost got a smile out of me right now.''
Defending champion McIlroy shot a 72 to finish at 4-under 140 after two rounds, six shots off the lead. He had three birdies in his last three holes.
''I struggled in the wind a little bit and didn't get off to the best of starts again,'' McIlroy said. ''Being 2-over through four on this golf course when you have a couple of good birdie chances wasn't great.''
''The middle of the round was tough,'' he added. ''There were a few holes that were playing really tough, and I struggled on those, but I bounced back well and persevered and got something out of the round in the end. I just need to make sure I get off to a fast start tomorrow.''
Cabrera-Bello, who had just one bogey in his first 36 holes, credited his putter for his strong showing Friday.
''I mean, today has been a little bit of a different round to yesterday,'' the Spaniard said. ''Yesterday, I really felt I played great until the green. I gave myself lots of chances.
''And today was the exact opposite. I didn't play as good, as sharp. It was windy. I didn't quite find my tempo but the putting was extremely hot today. I rolled one of the best putting rounds of my life today, so that made up for everything else.''
Henrik Stenson shot a 68 to stay in contention at 137, but Louis Oosthuizen was among those who missed the cut. Also missing the cut were Germany's Martin Kaymer, European Ryder Cup captain Darren Clarke, Graeme McDowell, two-time Dubai champion Stephen Gallacher and Thailand's Thongchai Jaidee.
Round 1 - Alex Noren leads, McIlroy & Els lurk
February 5, 2016
Rory McIlroy and Ernie Els, the two most successful players in the history of Dubai Desert Classic, made good starts once again, but Sweden's Alex Noren took the lead after the opening round on Thursday.
World number two McIlroy, the defending champion who has never finished outside the top-10 since winning here in 2009, started with a bogey in his four-under par 68, while three-time champion and holder of the course record (11-under par 61), Els closed with a bogey for his 68.
The duo was among a group of eight players tied for sixth place, two behind the bogey-free Noren, who said he struggled with the layout of the golf course, and yet finished second behind McIlroy last year.
Brett Rumford of Australia, who is back again this season after missing a major part of last year because of stomach surgery for blocked intestines, and Sweden’s Peter Hanson, who has suffered from a back injury for nearly two years before being healthy again, were tied for second position at five-under par 67.
Spain's Rafael Cabrera-Bello and South African Trevor Fisher Jnr were the other two players on 67.
Noren said he did not feel very comfortable at the beginning of the round on a golf course that does not favour his fade game much.
"I was very happy when it was all over because it didn't feel that good warming up. I hit my irons really good all day, but pretty average driving. It was tough on a few holes, a lot of draws here and I don't like to draw the ball," said Noren, who finished runner-up by three shots to McIlroy last year at 19-under par.
"I hit a lot of fades off the tee and here you know it's a drawer's course. So you feel a bit down as a fade player. But you just have to accept it and maybe play less aggressive on some holes. But I missed a few shots and got away with it and then I putted pretty well."
McIlroy started on the par-5 10th hole, and could not get out of the green side bunker with his first attempt after hitting his approach shot into it. He made a good 15-feet putt for a bogey there. Later, he dropped another shot on the short, par-4 second hole.
But the Northern Irishman also struck some magnificent shots. On the par-5 18th, he made a birdie despite hitting his tee shot into the water and taking a penalty drop, and then on the 13th hole, he needed to hit a huge cut shot from behind a palm tree which left him a 20-feet putt for eagle. He missed that, but made a birdie. And on the difficult sixth hole, he hit his second shot from the rough to a couple of inches.
"I thought I did well, considering the start and having some of the shots I hit throughout the round. A 68 was probably a fair reflection of how I played. I don't feel like I could have really gone any lower than that but at the same time, I gave myself enough chances to make some birdies," said McIlroy.
"All in all, a decent day, decent score, especially looking at the conditions this afternoon, looks like it's going to be quite tricky for the boys out there.”
Els, who found 17 greens in regulation before missing his only one on the 18th by hitting his second shot into the water guarding the green, said he has a rib injury which bothers him a bit during hitting long shots.
"I just got stuck with that shot. I've been struggling with this rib injury this week, and on the longer shots, when you have to stay wide, I really find it tough. The rib kind of catches there and throws the club inside and that's what happened there. Only 250 yards, so I had to go for it. Wasn't a good swing, and wasn't a good result," said the four-time major champion.
World number six Henrik Stenson also started well with a three-under par 69.