Rory McIlroy suffered desert disaster for the second time in two months when he carved his three-wood approach into the water at 18 and missed a qualifier for the Slync.io Dubai Desert Classic.
he world number eight, who missed three of his last four holes to lose November’s DP World Tour Championship to Collin Morikawa, landed five clutch putts between 12 and 30 feet to hit the front at Emirates Golf Club at 12 under par.
But while eventual champion Viktor Hovland finished birdie-eagle-birdie to join McIlroy in the lead with a 66, Richard Bland tied them with a birdie-birdie finish after a 68.
The pressure was on McIlroy to deliver the kind of finish he needs to regain the confidence that made him a four-time Major winner.
But needing to play the final two holes in a sub to match Pádraig Harrington with 15 DP World Tour wins and join Ernie Els as the second man to win the Dubai title three times, he imploded under the pressure.
First, he hooked his tee shot into the bushes on the 17th from 359 yards and opted not to take a drop, pared his second hit and hope 30 yards into the rough, from where he produced a sensational throw to 30 inches to save par.
With Bland hitting in a 22-footer on the 18th to join McIlroy and Hovland on 12 under, McIlroy needed a four to the last to win and a par five to make it a playoff three.
But his course management skills let him down a lot and after hitting a three wood down the middle of the fairway on the 564-yard 18th, he opted to go green in two for 267 yards with the wind in his face. .
His three-wood approach sailed miles straight through the water and as he gave himself a 16-footer for par after a penalty, he dropped low and took six.
A closing 71 forced him to settle for third place at under 11 and reflect on his goal for the season – hitting shots under pressure while running down the back nine on Sunday.
“That’s when you really find out what you’re made of and if you can repeat the swing and hit shots under pressure when you need to,” McIlroy said in Abu Dhabi last week.
“And I guess it’s been a successful year for me. If I find myself in that position a lot, and I feel comfortable and I feel like I can hit those shots under pressure, I know I do the right things.”
Hovland, who was six down at the start of the day, then beat Bland with a birdie in his return to 18th for the playoffs, two putts from 40ft as the England veteran threw from eight feet but missed his birdie putt .
When he finished he said: “Rory is a really good player so I think he’ll shut this one down. Otherwise I’ll be ready to play in the playoffs. But it looks like he’s got this one. .”
After winning the playoffs for his third win in his last five outings to finish third in the world, Hovland added: “It’s pretty crazy. I didn’t really think it was possible today.
“I knew I had to shoot a very small number, but a lot had to go my way and I’m grateful they did.”
Veteran Harrington (50) finished tied for ninth with seven under after a 72.
The Dubliner came within a header with early birdies in third and fifth but after making four bogeys he birdied the last to clinch his first top 10 of the year.
Shane Lowry had high hopes of a top-10 finish after his third-round 68, but mixed three birdies with two bogeys in a 71 and tied for 24th with one under.