Viktor Hovland delivered a breathtaking finish to win the Slync.io Dubai Desert Classic in a play-off match after two-time winner Rory McIlroy increased his chances of a third title on the last hole.
Hovland completed his last three holes in four under par to enforce a sudden death decision before taking out Englishman Richard Bland on the first extra hole at Emirates Golf Club.
McIlroy looked like he was reaching the tournament within his reach, with part of the lead on the way down with his closest opponents all finishing.
However, after scoring a lane after a poor knockout on the 17th, he then got the water on the last and the resulting bogey meant he signed for a lock 71 and finished at 11 under, one behind Hovland and Bland, who continued to replay the 18th.
Hovland found the green in two on the par five and clinched a victory, his first in a Rolex series, with a two-foot birdie.
“It’s quite wild, I did not really think it was possible to go in today,” Hovland told Sky Sports in an interview with Bland’s coach and TV presenter Tim Barter.
“I knew I had to shoot a very low number, but a lot of things had to go my way. I’m thankful it did.
“I was furious after the try at 15. I felt that was it. I just had to try to finish well and I rolled a very long one at 16 and then, at 17, hear, we got a chance.
“I’m pumping now. It’s a bit surreal. ”
The win was Hovland’s third in his last five starts – he also reversed a six-stroke deficit to win the Hero World Challenge in December – taking him to a career-high third in the world rankings.
“It’s quite wild,” he added. “I was up to fifth earlier this week and I got questions about how it feels.
“More of the same, I think. Being number three is pretty crazy, but that stuff can vary week to week and I’m not going to let that stuff determine my mood or how I do things. But it is very rewarding to see that all the hard work pays off. ”
It looked like Hovland’s chance disappeared when he chased the 15th, but the 24-year-old then ran for bird on the 16th of 35 feet and finished the par-four 17th after riding the green.
It coincided with overnight leader Justin Harding, who saw his hopes effectively fade with a triple bogey on the 11th, although McIlroy was still in control after rescuing a bogey on the 10th and picking up shots on the 11th and 13th has.
However, Hovland, further up the field, was not finished yet, and he demanded another birdie on the last to score a 66 and set a club house target of 12.
This was later matched by Bland, who – after three consecutive birdies around the corner – also got the 17th and 18th birds to join Hovland.
McIlroy could not take advantage of the achievable 17th after a drawn tee shot and then went on the 18th from 267 yards for the green, only to cut his approach into the water.
After taking a penalty kick, McIlroy hit a good wedge up to 15 feet, but saw his par hold catch the right edge of the hole and stay out.
That left Hovland and Bland, who are experiencing a late career renaissance after his victory at last year’s British Masters, to fight it out.
Hovland kept his nerves and Bland, despite an excellent chip on the green, could not equal the Norwegian birdie.
England’s Sam Horsfield and Tyrell Hatton were in a group of five to finish bottom with Harding at eight. Tommy Fleetwood has faded to finish bottom six alongside last year’s winner Paul Casey.
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