Mark O’Meara of America put on a display of consummate professionalism to secure victory in the Dubai Desert Classic and take the first prize of €267,929 with a fourth round 69 for 17 under par, 271, that left him one stroke ahead of his four round playing partner, Irishman Paul McGinley.
O’Meara drew on every ounce of the experience that made him Masters Champion and Open Champion in 1998, hitting every green in regulation during his final 18 holes to close out his fourth European Tour International Schedule victory – and his first since that 1998 Open Golf Championship victory.
McGinley and O’Meara’s brilliant battle for first place was similar to that of Denmark’s Thomas Björn and Tiger Woods of America in 2001, when Bjorn upstaged the World Number One after playing every round side by side at the Emirates Golf Club in Dubai.
It was a perfect day for golf, and many of the names near the top of the leaderboard put on exemplary displays on the par 72, 7201 yard desert terrain. Englishman David Howell, playing alongside Woods, started the day with three straight birdies, and the World Number One got on the move by picking up shots at the second, third and fifth, before eagling the par five tenth to go to 13 under.
European Tour Number One Ernie Els of South Africa – who eventually finished joint third alongside Howell after a best of the day 65 – was seven under for the fourth round after 14 holes, but no-one could deny that the focus of the day was on McGinley and O’Meara in the last match.
Both players started the day solidly with two pars, before picking up shots at the third. O’Meara birdied the next to take a one shot lead, then both men birdied again at the fifth. The American then dropped a shot at the sixth while McGinley made par – only to go one behind at the turn after bogeying the ninth.
That bogey, compounded with O’Meara’s birdie at the par three 11th, took the wind from McGinley’s sails, and the 47 year old American eased his way home with a further seven pars to finish with 69, and a one shot victory.
“It's very gratifying any time you win a golf tournament, especially one of this stature,” said O’Meara, who has now won on The European Tour in three different decades after his wins at the 1987 Lawrence Batley International Open, the 1997 Trophée Lancôme and 1998 Open Championship.
“I think people around the world recognise this tournament as one of the classic events. You look at the players that play here this week and past champions that have won this championship, you've got a lot of great players, and for me to put my name alongside them is a dream come true.
“You always wonder sometimes when you're battling, you haven't won and your confidence is low, if you just keep practicing and keep plugging away, maybe you'll have that chance again, and this week fortunately I had the chance.
“I was delighted to be able to play alongside Paul McGinley the last four days. He's a friend, and a great competitor. It helps when you're playing with a guy that is a good, fair competitor and a good sport, who knows what the game is all about. Paul certainly knows that.
“As for myself, this is just a big day for me. To go five and a half – almost six years – without a victory, what can you say? It's a special moment for me. So I'm very thankful, I feel very privileged.”
McGinley, who picked up a cheque for €178,619, was disappointed not to have won – but could not take anything away from his playing partner of the last four days.
“Obviously there's disappointment not to have won,” said the 37 year old Irishman. “We're in the game to win and the difference between winning and coming in second is huge. Having said that, I didn't lose the tournament – Mark won it. He played awesome. On the first two days he putted the lights out and I thought he hit the ball really well over the weekend.
“As I said I don't feel like I last lost the tournament, I feel Mark won it. He hit every green in regulation on the back nine and never seemed to give me an inch. Anything I had to do, I had to work hard to get. He played like a guy who has been winning tournaments every day of his life.”
The Irishman’s performance hoisted him to 11th on the Volvo Order of Merit, with Ernie Els and David Howell moving to second and 19th respectively following their tie for third place.
It was an especially gratifying day for Howell, who was playing with Woods and eventually outscored the World Number One by one shot – his 67 beating the American’s 68.
The 28 year old Englishman now moves to 12th place on The Ryder Cup Points List on 465,210 points, with McGinley one place behind him on 461,108.