Four-time Major winner Rory McIlroy rued an error-ridden back nine after he failed to convert a chance to end his trophy drought at the Dubai Desert Classic.
McIlroy looked on track for a third success at Emirates Golf Club when he led by two strokes with eight holes to play, but dropped shots at 11 and 16 allowed China’s Li Haotong to return to the top of the leaderboard.
Li held on, matching McIlroy’s birdies at 17 and 18 to equal his round of 69 and finish on 23 under par, one shot ahead of the Northern Irishman.
“I thought I was obviously in the driver’s seat,” said McIlroy, who was third last week in Abu Dhabi.
“I made him win it in the end, which was all I could do. I just wish I could get a couple of those holes back. If someone had told me at the start of the year you’d finish third and second your first two events, I’d take that.”
England’s Tyrrell Hatton was third, two shots behind McIlroy, after closing a with a blemish-free round of 66. Frenchman Alexander Levy was fourth.
For Li, it was the 22-year-old’s second victory on the European Tour and made him the first Chinese player to break into the world’s top 50.
“Especially the first few holes, I was quite nervous,” said Li, the overnight leader.
“The first hole I made bogey and got to come back really quick, which was good. The last four holes was some of the best shots in my life so far. Happy to see I can hold a trophy here. I’m looking forward to my first Masters.”