Rory McIlroy has targeted a summer of success after producing a stunning finish to win the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open for the first time at The K Club.
McIlroy was in danger of blowing a three-shot lead after 54 holes for the second time this season after Scotland’s Russell Knox carded four birdies and an eagle in the first 15 holes of a dramatic final round interrupted twice by hailstorms and torrential rain.
However, the world number three then birdied the par-five 16th as Knox three-putted and, after lipping out for birdie on the 17th, fired a stunning approach from 252 yards to within three feet of the hole on the 18th for a closing eagle.
The resulting 69 meant McIlroy finished three shots clear of Knox and Wales’ Bradley Dredge to claim the first prize of £515,000, which he will donate to his own foundation which hosted the tournament for the second year.
“It means a lot for my summer,” said McIlroy, who failed to convert a similar position in the WGC-Cadillac Championship in March. “It’s nice to get that first win of the year.
“I kept telling myself, kept telling anyone that would listen, my game was close. It was just a matter of everything clicking. Maybe those last three holes is the catalyst for another big summer.”
The 27-year-old, who won four times in 2014 including two majors and a maiden WGC title, added: “I really feel like my game is in good enough shape to kick on from here and to challenge in the three final majors, and obviously everything else we have to play for this year, Olympics, Ryder Cup, Race to Dubai, FedEx Cup.”
The 13th European Tour title of McIlroy’s career was not enough to improve his position in the world rankings, but it did lift him to second in the Race to Dubai behind Masters champion Danny Willett, who shared the lead at halfway but slumped to a closing 77.
That left Knox as McIlroy’s biggest challenger and the US-based Scot took the lead with birdies on the 14th and 15th, only for McIlroy to produce a stunning approach from 273 yards to set up a two-putt birdie on the 16th, while Knox found sand off the tee and three-putted for a costly bogey.
“I played brilliant to be honest,” Knox said. “Obviously 16 is a huge turning point, but the shots that Rory hit in the end, he deserves to win. I shot 75 the first day and finished tied second. That’s pretty good.’’
England’s Matthew Southgate, who regained his European Tour card via the qualifying school after undergoing treatment for testicular cancer last year, carded a closing 68 to finish fourth, the best result of his career.