Red is the colour, Tiger-esque is the word for peerless Rory McIlroy

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The Earth Course, Dubai

That was some exclamation mark, hammered into place by a golfer in Sunday red driving the global game. Rory McIlroy said he wanted to underscore his momentous year with a victory at the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai. He did more than that. He embellished a legend that, even at the tender age of 23, is reshaping the game's parameters.

And to think his day had started with a bogey. "Tiger-esque" is how Luke Donald, the No 2 ranked player in the world, described McIlroy's five-birdie finish. McIlroy said the red shirt was coincidental, the only clean one he had left in his locker. There was nothing accidental about the golf.

It was Justin Rose who emerged from the pack to force McIlroy to respond as champions do. The Englishman shot a course-record 62 to set the bar at 21 under par. Donald, plagued by sinus issues at the end of a long campaign, lost the regal sharpness of his A game but had the best view in the house as McIlroy responded to the Rose thrust.

"To be able to do that when he needed to is the sign that he has what it takes. It was Tiger-esque in his prime, pretty impressive stuff. And it shows us all how hard we will have to work to stay up with him," Donald said.

A bogey at 13 saw McIlroy fall two shots behind Rose, who capped a spellbinding back nine with an eagle putt at the last that was an inch from rivalling Zlatan Ibrahimovic's overhead kick against England for audacious endeavour. He rolled his ball all of 90 feet over the crest of the 18th green, where it slowed almost to a halt before picking up speed down to the lip.

Rose pumped the air with the force of a Floyd Mayweather Jnr combination, thinking he had done enough to pick the pocket of the world No 1. We can forgive him that. It was the stupendous effort of a sublimely gifted golfer. But in the age of McIlroy, that is not enough.

McIlroy responded to the two-stroke deficit with an eagle putt at 14, which fell only narrowly short, a 25-footer at 15, an eight-footer at 16 and a neat six-footer on the penultimate hole after stalking the pin into the wind with the pressure of victory growing ever greater. The shot made the final hole a procession and rendered Rose's post-round chipping practice in the hope of a play-off meaningless.

At the 18th, after laying up with his second, McIlroy fired his approach to 12 feet and rolled in the birdie to win by two with a closing six-under 66.

"It means a lot to win in this fashion. I guess in a way, Justin gave me the opportunity to do what I did. Seeing a target there and shooting at something, it definitely makes you more focused. I didn't want to just come here and go through the motions. I was really motivated to finish the year in a way that I thought it deserved," McIlroy said.

"Luke and I were tied for the lead, and we both didn't get off to the greatest of starts. And then Justin had that incredible back nine, shot 62, and I knew midway through the back nine I needed to do something special. Somehow I summoned up the energy from somewhere to make five birdies in the last five holes."

This was McIlroy's fifth victory of the season and his 10th career title. Annual earnings of more than £4.4m set a new European Tour mark, topping the 2011 record of Donald. It seems barely believable that we were talking about a crisis in his game during the months of May and June when McIlroy missed four cuts in six events.

He told us to be patient, that he would come good. How true that was. An eruption on the scale precipitated by Rose would have been too great an impediment for many a golfer who started the day sharing a three-shot lead. McIlroy fell two behind Donald over the opening two holes. Neither saw Rose coming at that point. McIlroy knows as well as any how hard it is to wrestle back the initiative when a lead is surrendered, but claw it back he did, first reeling in Donald and then Rose in that incredible denouement.

The comparison with Woods is valid. It used to embarrass McIlroy. These days he does not bother to demur. "When I'm not playing my best, I'm still able to compete and win. That's something I wanted to try and get better at. I felt in my previous wins, before this year, I've just played great golf and no one could really get near me. But being able to win not with your best game is what Tiger has done for years. I'm learning how to do it."

 



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