Rory McIlroy finished tied ninth at the Dubai Desert Classic after falling away on the final day.
A stunning 63 in his opening round set the Northern Irishman up for an excellent tournament, before solid rounds of of 70 and 69 saw him consolidate his sport in the upper reaches of the leader board.
But three bogeys in four holes on the back nine on the final day derailed his chances of victory here.
Following on from his near miss at the Abu Dhabi Championship a fortnight ago, McIlroy will be pleased with his overall showing and showed plenty of glimpses that he is beginning to get back to his very best.
Coming back to the scene of his first professional tour triumph, the 24-year-old was quoted pre-tournament by BBC Sport this week as saying, "It is nice to come back. I sort of missed it last year. I played twice as an amateur here in '06 and '07, so the tournament has been very good to me giving me those invites and it was fitting in a way that I won my first tournament here as a pro."
After a tough 2013, 2014 seems to have begun in much better fashion for the two-time major champion. He'll be looking to build on the promising form he showcased here as the season gets back into full swing in the coming weeks.
Rory McIlroy fell out of contention for the title on the final day of the Dubai Desert Classic, after a disappointing final round of 74 saw him finish in joint ninth position.
After a wonderful effort during the first three days which saw him poised on 14-under-par, the Northern Irishman went out in the last pairing of the day with Scotland's Stephen Gallacher.
McIlroy was expected to make all the running on the final day with his major pedigree and steely nerve in these sorts high pressure situations. But unfortunately for him, his game just wasn't up to the high standards he'd set during the previous three days.
He started in solid fashion after taking par at each of the opening six holes, but a bogey at seven was followed by one at ten and with players making moves around him, his title challenge looked to be fading fast. McIlroy bounced back with a birdie at 11, but his joy was short lived as he took bogeys at 12 and 13 and with that his title challenge was done.
Despite this an anticlimactic finish for McIlroy, he'll be buoyed by the improvements that have been made in his game and delighted how his game looked for the majority of this tournament.
After 2013 was punctured with some poor performances and some seismic changes, the early indications suggest that McIlroy is all set for a much brighter season this time round.
Elsewhere, McIlroy's playing partner Gallacher went on to secure the title by one shot from Emiliano Grillo. Tiger Woods finished down in tied 41st place on six-under-par.
Here are your final standings per Europeantour.com:
|Pos.||Player||Final Score||Rd 4 Total|
Rory McIlroy slipped back to second after the third round, but remains within two shots of the lead.
Rory McIlroy hit a solid three-under round in the third round of the Omega Dubai Desert Classic today, but it was not enough to see the Northern Irishman retain the lead as he slipped into second.
McIlroy hit an eagle, three birdies and two bogies as he went round in 69 to go 14-under. But a nine-under round from the Scot, Stephen Gallacher, saw him wrestle the lead from McIlroy and go 16-under.
There was little McIlroy could do about the Flying Scotsman, who hit eight birdies, an eagle and a bogie in his round of 63. It will be a phenomenal effort for him to repeat that effort, however, if he is to hold off McIlroy.
Here's a look at the leaderboard at the end of the third round:
|Pos.||Player||Score||Rd 3 Total|
|T9||Dawie van der Walt||-9||65|
Rory McIlroy wasn't able to match his opening-round 63, but a 2-under round of 70 was enough for him to maintain the lead as he walked off the course after the second round. It was a reasonable score given the up-and-down nature of his play on Day 2.
The 24-year-old Northern Irishman opened the round with a bogey. He was able to bounce back by playing bogey-less golf from holes two through 12, a stretch that included four birdies. He then had two bogeys, including one on a par five, and a birdie down the stretch.
Here's a look at the leaderboard (via European Tour; Current as of Jan. 31 at 8:50 a.m. ET/1:50 p.m. GMT):
McIlroy didn't strike the ball nearly as pure as he did in Round 1, when it seemed every shot from the fairway was ending up in birdie range. It was more of a grind and the fact he was still able to score under par and keep the lead is a positive sign.
His lead over most of the field is at least three strokes, including an eight-shot lead over playing partner Tiger Woods. The No. 1 player in the world has been a bit sluggish out of the gate this year and would need a major turnaround to get back in contention.
Although Brooks Koepka is just one stroke back, Kelly Tilghman of the Golf Channel believes Henrik Stenson (-7) might end up being McIlroy's toughest competition:
FedEx & Race to Dubai champ Henrik Stenson makes big move in Dubai. 2nd rd 67, trails McIlroy by 4 heading into weekend.— Kelly Tilghman (@KellyTilghmanGC) January 31, 2014
Looking ahead to the weekend it's hard to view McIlroy as anything other than a prohibitive favorite. Even though he didn't play anywhere near his best in the second round, he still posted a respectable score and could easily return to form for Day 3.
It will be interesting to see if Koepka can seriously push him after a strong second round or if another contender, such as Stenson, emerges. Regardless, they will likely need to play flawless golf in order to prevent McIlroy from raising the trophy.
Rory McIlroy couldn't have asked for a better way to kick off proceedings at the Emirates Golf Club. His score of nine under was enough to push him to the front of the queue on Day 1.
A spotless round of golf saw the young hopeful register not a single bogey, birdying five of the back nine, not to mention starting his day off right with an eagle on the par-five third hole.
Here's a look at the first-round leaderboard (correct as of Thursday, Jan. 30 at 6 a.m. ET/11 a.m. GMT):
The full leaderboard can be found on the European Tour's website.
Seven birdies led McIlroy on an onslaught during the Dubai Desert Classic's opening phase, showing an initiative that seemed to have been missing from his game for some time.
As aforementioned, the scoring was split almost evenly over McIlroy's two halves of the course, his front nine score of four-under only just being eclipsed by the proficiency shown as the day wore on.
The day score of 63 left partner Tiger Woods eating McIlroy's dust, with the American tied for seventh place after shooting four under for the opening round.
However, Golf Channel's Rex Hoggard reported that McIlroy isn't satisfied with the outing, even though it's difficult to see where things could have gone more according to plan:
Most interesting part of Rory McIlroy's post-round presser - he's not happy with his wedge game. #63— Rex Hoggard (@RexHoggardGC) January 30, 2014
It's a humble admission from McIlroy, whose fine driving paved the path for easier matters close to the pin.
The Press Association (h/t The Guardian) provide quotes from the young star regarding his comfortable day's work:
It was good. It was really nice. I played really well from tee to green, drove the ball well again; I think I only missed a couple of fairways and only missed one green where I had to really get it up and down.
I took advantage of how I am driving the ball and just need to do more of the same the next three days.
Impressive though Thursday's work may have been, McIlroy knows that the remaining three days could yet see those foundations succumb to engaging pressure, with defending champion Stephen Gallacher only three shots behind.
For now at least, McIlroy can revel in his emphatic beginning down in Dubai, which would require an almighty fall in order to see him not feature in the post-cut weekend action.