Harig: McIlroy gets some relief with win in Dubai

His home is Northern Ireland, he lives much of the year in Florida, but Rory McIlroy might want to apply for permanent residency in the Middle East, specifically Dubai — if he hasn’t done so already.

The place where he got his first European Tour victory; where he goes to practice in the winter; where he started off what was expected to be another banner year in 2015 with a victory; where he ended it Sunday with another win, although this one more out of relief than glory.

McIlroy, 26, wrapped up his third Race to Dubai title — the European Tour’s season-long money and points race — in the past four years with a victory at the DP World Tour Championship.

His closing 66 over a course where he has never shot over par produced a one-shot victory over England’s Andy Sullivan and clinched the Race to Dubai title, a positive end to what had become a frustrating year — even though McIlroy won four times worldwide.

The success of No. 1 Jordan Spieth — two majors, five victories — and Jason Day — one major, five victories — all but overshadowed the exploits of McIlroy, who stormed to the No. 1 ranking after two major wins in 2014 and seemed a lock to hold onto that crown a year ago at this point.

That’s why winning was so important to him Sunday. The Race to Dubai title would not have served as consolation by itself.

“Probably not — probably not within the next 48 hours,” said McIlroy, who now has four European Tour titles (he has 11 on the PGA Tour), including four in Dubai. “Going into Christmas, it would have been a little bit of a consolation. But if I hadn’t won today, especially the position I found myself on the back nine, I wouldn’t have been too happy.”

McIlroy won’t tee it up until another event in the United Arab Emirates in January, the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

This is where he began 2015 with a runner-up finish, followed by a victory at the regular Dubai tour stop. Another win at the WGC Match Play Championship followed by a victory at the PGA Tour’s Quail Hollow Championship in May had McIlroy thinking big things heading to the U.S. Open, with a showdown looming at St. Andrews with Spieth — who had captured the year’s first two majors.

At the time, McIlroy had a healthy lead in the world rankings, only to suffer the infamous soccer injury with his friends just two weeks before The Open. The ligament damage at the time seemed far worse, threatening to keep him out for the rest of the year. And with that perspective, McIlroy might think better of his year.

As it was, he missed only the Scottish Open, The Open and the WGC-Bridgestone — the latter two of which he was defending champion. When he came back at the PGA Championship, it was understandable that his form would be off.

He played three of the four FedEx Cup events, made an obligatory start at the Open, then played tournaments in Turkey and Shanghai prior to his season-ending victory.

Meanwhile, Spieth and Day — who won four tournaments following the Open, including the PGA Championship — took over the limelight that McIlroy seeks to regain in 2016.

“Honestly, I think I’m right there,” McIlroy said about his game. “The only thing that’s been holding me back over the past few weeks was my putting. My ball-striking’s right where I want it to be. So I think I’m right there. I just want to get as strong and as healthy as possible going into next year, and just keep on top of the things that I’m doing well and keep trying to chip away at the things I want to do a little bit better.”

McIlroy will visit with family in Northern Ireland, then spend some of the holidays in the U.S. before sizing up a 2016 season that promises to offer all manner of storylines.

And as he has done in recent years, while flying to the United Arab Emirates for the his first event Abu Dhabi, McIlroy will write his goals for the year – personal and professional — on the back of his boarding pass.

Undoubtedly, he didn’t attain a few of those in 2015, specifically the major championships. But he did check off this last one Sunday, at a place that must feel like home.

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