Rory McIlroy, winning trophies and hearts in Dubai

Rory was also quick to acknowledge Dubai's role in helping him build his career graph


Leslie Wilson Jr

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Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, CEO and founder of Emirates Group, applauds as Rory McIlroy lifts the trophy after winning the Hero Dubai Desert Classic. — Photo by Shihab
Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, CEO and founder of Emirates Group, applauds as Rory McIlroy lifts the trophy after winning the Hero Dubai Desert Classic. — Photo by Shihab

Published: Sun 21 Jan 2024, 10:40 PM

In many ways, it was the sweetest of homecomings.

Eighteen years after he first came to Dubai in mid-2000 as a teenager following an invitation to play as an amateur, Rory McIlroy sealed a monumental victory at the Emirates Golf Cup on Sunday when he brushed off some serious pressure to win the Hero Dubai Desert Classic for a record fourth time.

The Northern Irishman claimed a maiden ROLEX Series crown at this event 12 months ago but came into the weekend ten shots in areas before a stunning third-round 63 on Saturday saw him storm right back into contention going into the final round.

After a roller-coaster of 18 holes with first American Cameron Young and then Dubai-resident Adrian Meronk threatening to derail his bid for history, Rory finished the round as only he could, to claim victory by one shot for the second successive year.

Now 34, this is a completely different Rory to the one who made Dubai his home for four years and would later buy a house on the Palm Jumeirah's trunk.

The new World No. 2. is aggressive and pursues his goals with greater intent. He says he is more focused and even more hungry to be the best version of himself.

But there is also a tender side to this fierce athlete. He’s approachable, respectful and a listener as this writer found out earlier this week.

Rory was also quick to acknowledge Dubai’s role in helping him build his career graph.

Shortly after receiving the iconic Dallah Trophy, a symbol of supremacy in the Dubai Desert Classic from Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, Chairman and CEO of Emirates Airline and Group, Rory walked into the media centre at the Emirates Golf Club where he spent over half an hour sharing his deepest thoughts to an elite group of journalists from around the world.

He spoke with an open heart and had everyone’s attention, to the point that even golf writers who are known to probe players for hidden stories and anecdotes, sat back and listened attentively, and in awe of this incredible sportsman.

“I was saying in an interview earlier that the arc of my career and Dubai in general have sort of like tracked each other pretty consistently along the way,” he said.

“I remember my first Desert Classic in 2006 as an amateur, staying what seemed like out in the desert at that point, and it's probably like only ten minutes away now, it's so built up.

“But just to think like 18 years ago, and what it meant to come here and play in this event, to be sitting here, you know, having won it four times, and all the great experiences that I've had in Dubai and the friends that I've met and everything sort of along the way,” Rory continued.

“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.

“So it's amazing to sit here. In the first Desert Classic, I took a media credential and I walked inside the ropes to follow Tiger (Woods) and Ernie (Els) and Thomas Björn and then just to think about even the arc of that now,” he added.

“Thomas Björn is my Ryder Cup Captain; I ended up buying Ernie Els's house and I've become really good friends with Tiger Woods.

“It's just amazing to think back on the last 18 years and sort of where I find myself.”

Some sportsmen command an audience and Rory is certainly one of them. There is a unique charisma that he brings to press conferences that helps him stand out from many of his peers. It's a bit like watching a play at the West End in London, where nobody in the audience even twitches.

He speaks from the heart, looks around the room and smiles, and his tone is measured in its delivery. If a movie is one day made of his life it would take a very special actor to get into his mind and be who Rory is.

Whether he’s winning or losing, having a good day or a bad one he can be infectious. But more than anything this honesty comes shining through. He’s not faking it. Just telling it as it is.

“Today, I did what I needed to do. I felt like I played a very controlled round of golf, he said.

“I thought if I shot two 67s over the weekend, I would have a decent chance to win, and if that had been the case, I would have tied for 13-under. I wasn't too far away with the prediction, and I went one better than that and ended up winning the tournament.”

It was as simple as that, or was it?

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