Watch: Rory McIlroy three-putts from two feet in dramatic Dubai loss to Tommy Fleetwood

Rory McIlroy watches on in anguish as he misses a crucial putt
Rory McIlroy's putter let him down at a key moment at the Dubai Invitational - David Cannon/Getty Images

Rory McIlroy three-putted from two feet and then drove his ball into the water in a dramatic finale here at the Dubai Invitational.

The world No 2 was graciousness personified in congratulating Tommy Fleetwood. McIlroy hugged his Ryder Cup partner on the 18th green, before pointing out that the Englishman was long overdue this title. Yet regardless of his fondness for his opponent – or the fact that Fleetwood took his chance superbly with birdies on the last two holes – believe it, for McIlroy this will sting.

McIlroy had displayed such character to recover from that shocker on the 14th green. On that par three, after a devastating run of three birdies in a row from the 11th, he had conjured his tee-shot to what everybody believed was kick-in range and, had it been match play, Fleetwood would almost certainly have conceded the putt.

Indeed, the tiddler was about the same length as the one given to Fleetwood by Rickie Fowler for the winning point at the Ryder Cup four months ago.

Except McIlroy did not even hit the hole. Then to compound his error he yanked the four-foot return. In one mad minute, a formality of a birdie became a calamity of a bogey (watch video below). McIlroy put his head in his hands.

“I thought I hit a good putt for the birdie effort but when I looked up it had gone right of the cup,” he explained. “I guessed I must have pushed it so was wary of doing the same on the par putt, so that inevitably went left. Let’s just say it was an unfortunate turn of events. I was pleased with the way I bounced back over the next few holes.”

McIlroy holed a 15-footer on the 15th and then birdied the 17th from seven feet to move one clear heading to the last. It was in his grasp but the hook off the tee hit the pathway and flew into the creek. There was still hope.

With South African Thriston Lawrence (64) in the clubhouse on 18 under, the same mark as Fleetwood, McIlroy must have believed a bogey would see him in a play-off. He duly made the five for a 67. But having converted from 15 feet to keep himself in the fight on the 17th, Fleetwood – so often the bridesmaid – made another on the 18th to raise his arm and collect his first win in 14 months, to go with a cheque for £330,000.

Rory McIlroy congratulates his good friend Tommy Fleetwood
McIlroy congratulates his good friend Tommy Fleetwood - Ali Haider/Shutterstock

“Of course, it’s a great feeling to hole a putt like that to beat a player as good as Rory,” Fleetwood said, after his 67 for a 19-under total. “It’s funny, I played with Rory at the Scottish Open [last July] when he made that birdie on the 18th to win and there was a certain element of it today when I just felt like this was my turn.”

Fleetwood acknowledged that he was “surprised” by the bizarre scene on the 14th. “Yes, I just expected Rory to make it and move on,” he said. “But what didn’t surprise me was the way Rory shrugged it off and played the next three holes.”

Fleetwood has racked up seven top-five finishes since Sun City in November 2022 – including three seconds – and inevitably there were critics questioning his ability to close it out. However, the 32-year-old stayed patient and returns to the brink of the world’s top 10 with his seventh Tour success.

“I do think that winning is a habit, but naturally, when you come so close so many times, it is disappointing,” he said. “Yet at the same time, there’s been too many positives to reflect on and I’ve been determined to remember that I’ve been doing the right things for a long time. Win or lose today, I would have got up tomorrow and continued to do the same things.”

Tommy Fleetwood poses with the trophy
Fleetwood poses with the trophy - Ali Haider/Shutterstock

McIlroy feels the same and it will help his mindset that his next challenge happens to be the Desert Classic – that starts on Thursday – 18 miles away down the road at the Emirates, a course where he has prevailed three times, including 12 months ago.

No doubt, the numbskull mass of detractors who stupidly gang up on him on social media will insist this setback backs up their theory of a suspect competitive will, but all the 34-year-old has to do is look at the statistics and see that his C game was almost good enough.

In the four days, McIlroy found the water five times – quite the feat in a desert – made a quadruple bogey on Friday and three-putted from two feet – and still came up only one short.

“I made a lot of silly mistakes and on your first start back after two months off you sort of expect that,” he said. “So if I can clean that up going into next week, I feel like the rest of the game is right. But look, I’m really happy for Tommy. He’s played some incredible golf over the last year without actually getting over the line. So for him to get the win here, it’s great for him and it will do his confidence a world of good. Hopefully, he kicks on from it.”

At the other end of the leaderboard, American Ken Weyand shot an 86 to finish 53 over, which statisticians believe to be the highest four-round total in a regular event in the 53-year history of the Tour.

The 54-year-old, who was a sponsors’ invite despite having never played in any top-flight tournament, finished 72 shots behind Fleetwood. As there were 72 holes, that means he was a shot worse on every hole.

The club members might have some fun with Weyand when he returns to his day job as the general manager of the exclusive Grove XXIII course owned by basketball legend Michael Jordan in South Florida.

But Weyand had the last laugh as he still walked away with £6,500, the prize for finishing last (by 39 shots to his ‘nearest’ competitor).

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