Dubai Desert Classic: Viktor Hovland wins play-off after Rory McIlroy blows it

The 24-year-old Norwegian edged out Richard Bland at the first extra hole while McIlroy was left to rue a costly finish

Viktor Hovland came from six shots back after 54 holes to score a dramatic victory in the Slync.io Dubai Desert Classic and secure a third win in his last five worldwide starts.

The Norwegian cashed in on a flying finish in regulation play by birdieing the first play-off hole to end the brave challenge of England's Richard Bland after the pair had posted 12-under 276 at Emirates Golf Club.

Rory McIlroy finished solo third but was left to rue a calamitous bogey at the par-5 closer when in golden position to secure his third victory in the event.

Hovland looked to be playing for the minor places before producing a stunning birdie-eagle-birdie finish to post the clubhouse target thanks to a closing 6-under 66, the lowest round of the day.

He drained a 30-footer for birdie at 16, eagled the par-4 17th from 33 feet after driving the green and closed with another birdie at 18.

Bland matched that target soon after via an excellent birdie-birdie finish of his own.

The 48-year-old veteran nailed a 20-footer at 18 to complete a 4-under 68 and equal Hovland's 12-under tally.

But, despite the pair's late heroics, the tournament looked to be in McIlroy's hands.

The Northern Irishman appeared to have survived his crisis moment when getting away with a bogey-6 at the 10th after finding trouble.

He responded with birdies at 11 and 13 to hit 12-under, parred the next three and needed to play the final two scorable holes in 1-under to add to his previous two victories in this event (2009 and 2015)

McIlroy hit a wild drive into trouble at 17, scrambling well to make par, but was still fancied to get the job done via birdie at the par-5 last.

Winning doesn't come as easy as it once did though, and after leaving himself 267 yards to the green, his approach never had the legs and faded tamely into water.

An up and down would still have put him into the play-off but, despite a good wedge to 15 feet, his putt caught the right edge and his 1-under lap of 71 and tally of 277 was one too many.

McIlroy trudged off the green, leaving Hovland and Bland to contest the play-off.

Both found the 18th fairway but Bland's approach leaked left and he couldn't get up and down for par.

Hovland muscled two big hits onto the green and calmly two-putted for birdie to claim his second European Tour title and first Rolex Series event.

The victory also elevated him to a career-high World No.3 and marked a third victory in five starts after he ended 2021 with wins in the World Wide Technology Championship at Mayakoba and the Hero World Challenge.

Hovland said: "This is pretty wild. Especially as I didn't really think this was possible going in today. I knew I had to shoot a really low number but a lot of things had to go my way and thankful that it did.

"I was fuming after the three-putt on 15, and thought that was it and I knew I just had to try to finish off well and get a nice position for the week.

"I rolled a really long one on 16, and then on 17, and hey, we got a shot."

Overnight leader Justin Harding lost his chance when taking triple bogey at the par-3 11th.

The South African, who closed with a 4-over 76, finished tied fourth on 8-under alongside Sam Horsfield (67), Tyrrell Hatton (72), Adrian Meronk (72) and Erik Van Rooyen (73).

Dubai and the link to Augusta National

First contested in 1989, the Dubai Desert Classic trophy has some of golf's greatest names engraved on it.

They include Tiger Woods, Seve Ballesteros, Fred Couples, Jose Maria Olazabal and Mark O'Meara.

What do they all have in common? All five have won The Masters.

The link to Augusta National gets even more interesting when noting two more recent Dubai Desert Classic winners: Danny Willett and Sergio Garcia.

Not only did those two European stars go on to land the Green Jacket, they did so just a few months after they'd triumphed in Dubai.

Willett won the DDC in January 2016 with 19-under and then produced a surprise win at Augusta that April.

Sergio trod the same path, giving himself some early-season confidence by winning in Dubai with 19-under and then beating Justin Rose in a play-off at Augusta just over two months later to end his long, long wait for a first major.

Good news then for Hovland.

He's played The Masters just twice, finishing as Low Amateur when tied 32nd in 2019 and improving to tied 19th last year.

Could this win be the springboard for victory in the year's first Major?

Mixed weeks for other big names

Open champion Collin Morikawa looked to have shaken off a modest tied 62nd in last week's Abu Dhabi Championship when racing to 7-under early in his first round on Thursday morning.

But the American's game still isn't quite there and he fell down the leaderboard after following his opening 68 with laps of 73, 71, 71.

Still, tied 18th is a forward step and also improves on the tied 68th he posted here on debut 12 months ago.

Tyrrell Hatton looked to have a big chance for much of the tournament but closed 73-72 on the weekend, scores that were never going to get it done.

However, tied fourth here backs up his tied sixth in Abu Dhabi last week and confirms the Englishman's bright start to the season and prowess in desert events. Hatton now has four top eights in his last six starts in the Dubai Desert Classic.

The search for better times continues for Tommy Fleetwood. He was ready to pounce after three good rounds but opened his finale with a double bogey and swallowed another at the 12th.

He closed with a birdie to finish tied 12th along with Garcia, defending champion Paul Casey and last week's winner Thomas Pieters.

READ MORE: Farmers Insurance Open: Luke List lands first win after beating Will Zalatoris in play-off

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