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12 April 2024

Star is born at Classic

McIlroy's 19-under par proved he is an emerging force. (DENNIS B MALLARI) 

By John McAuley

When Rory McIlroy embarked on this year's Desert Swing, he was a precocious teenager of great promise. When he left the sun-scorched 18th green of the Majlis Course last Sunday, he had the golfing world at his feet.

McIlroy had led his fourth attempt at the Dubai Desert Classic from start to finish, a remarkable achievement considering he is still three months short of his 20th birthday.

A look at the names he fought off to claim the enormous silver coffee pot trophy indicate how talented the young Northern Irishman is.

Justin Rose, himself a former teenage prodigy, pushed McIlroy to the limit, but the 2007 Order of Merit winner was ultimately outdone by his playing partner's four straight birdies from nine onwards.

McIlroy had too much for the experienced Henrik Stenson too. The world No6 knows the course intimately, as he resides close by, yet he couldn't muster two extra birdies to catch the young pacesetter.

Paul Casey, winner of the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship two weeks previously, and Robert Karlsson, the reigning Order of Merit champion, were both a shot further aback.

Even Sergio Garcia, currently the second best golfer in the world, and Colin Montgomerie, eight times the most dominant player in Europe, failed to keep up with boy from Holywood.

If he was a star in the making before the trio of tournaments in the region, he cemented his reputation through a top five finish in the capital and his wire-to-wire victory in Dubai.

The accolades quickly followed. The 2004 Classic champion Mark O'Meara, having shared two rounds with McIlroy in Dubai, claimed the 19-year-old's technique was even more refined than Tiger Woods at the same age.

Montgomerie added weight to McIlroy's soaring status, trumpeting "we have a superstar in the making" and placing the 2009 Desert Classic winner at the head of some fantastic emerging European talent.

Not bad for a promising 19-year-old.