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McIlroy wins Dubai Desert Classic for record 4th time after reeling in Young in final round

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Rory McIlroy won the Dubai Desert Classic for a record fourth time Sunday, completing a remarkable weekend comeback by reeling in Cameron Young early in the final round, then holding off Adrian Meronk by a stroke,

McIlroy closed with a 2-under 70 to retain the title at a tournament he first won in 2009 and has captured more than any other in his career. Among his 35 wins as a professional, he had also won the Tour Championship and Wells Fargo Championship three times.

His latest victory at Emirates Golf Club was surely the most unlikely. McIlroy walked to the 18th tee on Friday trailing Young by 11 shots, only to make birdie, shoot 63 on Saturday to get into the final pairing on Sunday and then wipe out the American's overnight two-stroke lead after just six holes.

McIlroy led by three at the turn after birdies at Nos. 8 and 9 — two of the toughest holes at Emirates Golf Club — but came under some pressure from Meronk, who made four birdies on his back nine.

The world No. 2 walked down No. 18 leading by one shot — just like at last week’s Dubai Invitational, when he was beaten by Tommy Fleetwood — but this time he didn’t lose it as he closed with a tap-in par for 14-under par overall.

McIlroy made eight pars and a bogey on his back nine, capping what he described as a “very controlled round of golf.”

“It was one of those days where there wasn’t a ton of fireworks just because the course was so difficult,” he said. “But I held on as best as I could and thankfully no one around the top of the leaderboard made much of a run.”

Meronk (71), recently crowned as the European tour's player of the year for 2023, was alone in second place and Young was third after shooting 74.

Playing in Dubai for the first time, the No. 25-ranked American will regard it as a missed opportunity after playing his first 42 holes in 14 under and the last 30 holes in 1 over.

McIlroy broke a tie with South African great Ernie Els, who had also won the event three times, and has started 2024 with a second and first in Dubai — a place he once called home and with which he still has a strong affinity. After all, he has been coming to Emirates Golf Club since 2006, when he was an amateur and remembers walking inside the ropes following Tiger Woods, Els and Thomas Björn.

“All the great experiences that I’ve had in Dubai and the friends that I’ve met and everything along the way, it’s always been a place where I come back to and reminisce about my career because I really feel like it’s where everything started,” McIlroy said.

The Northern Irishman will head back to the United States and start the long build-up to the Masters, which he needs to win to complete a career grand slam and end a nearly 10-year wait for a fifth major title.

“Augusta is still a long way away in golfing terms,” McIlroy said. "A lot can change in 2 1/2 months.

“But it’s always nice to get a win. It’s always nice to feel like you’re playing well going into it.”

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(This version corrects to 35 career wins for McIlroy)

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AP golf: https://apnews.com/hub/golf