Dubai Invitational - Day Four
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When they stood on the 72nd tee box in the final pairing on Sunday at the Dubai Invitational, Rory McIlroy had a one-shot lead on Tommy Fleetwood thanks to a scorching run on the back nine of five birdies. When they walked off the 72nd green some 15 minutes later, Fleetwood had a one-shot lead (and the win) over McIlroy thanks to a clutch birdie at the very end.

McIlroy overcooked his tee shot, which found the water up the left on the 18th hole in this battle between the two best players in the field. That left the door open for Fleetwood, who walked right through it, putting a 16-foot birdie putt right in the middle of the cup to shoot 67 (which McIlroy also shot) for his first victory of the new year.

For Fleetwood, it touched off an incredible weekend in which he took 130 strokes (63-67) and ran down McIlroy, who had led after a 62 on Thursday. 

"I'm very happy," Fleetwood said. "It was amazing winning. Like almost everybody else in the world of golf, I don't win as much as incident would like to but just that winning feeling great. So happy I came back. This is obviously where I live and have a lot of support. It's great to kick off the year with a great result and push on from here.

"You know, feel like I've been saying for a long time, I've been doing a lot of really great things," he continued. "I have amazing people that I'm working with, win, lose or draw today. You know, next week will be the same. We just crack on and we keep pushing forward and hopefully keep moving the right direction."

McIlroy reversed a three-shot deficit after the 10th hole with three straight birdies on Nos. 11-13, and Fleetwood said, "it was great watching one of the world's best golfers in Rory, the way that he was playing the back nine, the way that he attacked the back nine." 

But Rory, who made a quadruple bogey on Friday on a par 3 after hitting two balls in the water, was going for four in a row on the par-3 14th and hit his tee shot to two feet. He then three-putted from there.

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His myriad mistakes were disappointing, but it was still a solid start to 2024 for McIlroy.

"I think for the first week back out, it was a really positive," said McIlroy. "... I think you're going to expect some of those sloppy mistakes, and unfortunately for me, those mistakes came at the wrong time today. But you know, I'll reflect on it and learn from today, and there's still a lot of good stuff in there. But just need to tidy up some of the edges, and if I do that, I feel good going into next week."

He was also elated for his pal, Fleetwood, which was evident in the way they walked off the 18th green. Two incredibly Ryder Cuppers having shot two of the better rounds of the day.

"I'm really happy for Tommy," said McIlroy. "He's played some incredible golf over the last year without actually getting a win. So for him to get the win here, it's great for him and it will do his confidence a world of good, and hopefully he kicks on from it. But yeah, it was a good battle out there and hopefully I have many more with him this year and for the years ahead."

Both McIlroy and Fleetwood will tee it up next week in the Dubai Desert Classic for two consecutive tournaments in Dubai to start 2024.