Rory McIlroy won a third Race to Dubai title as he beat Andy Sullivan by one shot to win the DP World Tour Championship, Dubai.
The Northern Irishman arrived at Jumeirah Golf Estates knowing that a victory would not only give him a second triumph on the Earth Course but also a second consecutive European Tour crown.
On a dramatic final afternoon of The European Tour season, McIlroy did not have it all his own way as he went toe-to-toe on the leaderboard with Sullivan, with closest Race to Dubai rival Danny Willett snapping at his heels.
But four birdies in five holes from the 11th saw him surge ahead and even a bogey after finding the water on the 17th could not derail the 2012 champion as he signed for a 66 that left him at 21 under and one shot clear of Sullivan.
It means an awful lot, I had to play so well over the weekend. Dubai has been a pretty sweet place for me – Rory McIlroy
Willett won the season-opening Nedbank Golf Challenge and remained at the top of the standings for 14 weeks but McIlroy moved ahead of him in the spring of a campaign in which they were the only players to hold top spot.
The Englishman bogeyed two of his last three holes to drop to 13 under and a share of fourth, with Branden Grace – who closed with a 67 – securing third on his own at 15 under.
That was good enough to move Grace up to third in The Race to Dubai behind McIlroy and Willett while Sullivan moved into the Top 15 to take a share of the Bonus Pool.
Sullivan was looking for a fourth win of the season after his victories at The South African Open Championship Hosted by the City of Ekurhuleni, the Joburg Open and the Portugal Masters but could not keep McIlroy at bay with a 68.
Sir Henry Cotton Rookie of the Year candidates Byeong-hun An and Matthew Fitzpatrick were alongside Willett at 13 under with Emiliano Grillo, Francesco Molinari and Charl Schwartzel all also eight shots behind the winner.
For Fitzpatrick, it was the tenth top ten of a remarkable season and he joins BMW PGA Championship winner An as a rookie in the Top 15 in The Race to Dubai.
Earlier, Willett holed a gutsy six-footer down the hill on the first to save par and followed that with a first birdie of the day on the next.
When the final duo got their rounds under way, it was Sullivan who had the honour of being the last player announced by long-time European Tour starter Ivor Robson, who is retiring after 41 years in the role this week.
Both men had birdie opportunities but Sullivan was the only one to take his as he rolled in a fast eight-footer to quickly extend his lead to two shots.
Sullivan found the sand with his second shot on the second but played out to 12 feet and rolled in another birdie while McIlroy also made a gain after going left of the green with his approach.
Willett made a birdie on the fifth to keep the pressure on McIlroy and when the 26 year old had a three putt bogey on the fourth, the gap between the pair was just two shots.
McIlroy replied in perfect fashion with a birdie of his own on the fifth but he could not close in on Sullivan who followed him in from ten feet to get to 19 under and keep his three shot lead.
The leading pair both birdied the sixth but Willett was still battling and a gain on the par five seventh moved him to 14 under and on his own in third place.
McIlroy made it three birdies in a row on the seventh as he left his eagle putt a foot short and that reduced the gap at the top to two with Sullivan doing well to save par after getting in some trouble down the left.
Sullivan was in a bunker off the tee on the eighth and when he left his recovery in the rough short of the green, a third bogey of the week followed with McIlroy’s par cutting the lead to one.
Sand trouble off a third consecutive tee followed on the ninth and when Sullivan crashed his second shot into the lip and his third over the back of the green, McIlroy had the chance to move ahead.
But the 28 year old made a brilliant chip-in that moved from right to left to save par and maintain his one shot advantage with Willett cutting the gap to McIlroy to three shots on the tenth.
That did not last for long, though, as both the leaders birdied the 11th and when McIlroy drained a 20-footer on the next to get to 20 under, they were tied at the top.
A three putt par at the par five 14th followed by a missed short birdie attempt on the next looked to have ended Willett’s chances on both fronts and, when McIlroy chipped to two feet and made birdie on the 14th, the European crown was as good as secured.
That birdie also gave McIlroy the lead on his own for the first time as Sullivan made par after putting his second shot through the back of the green.
The four-time Major Championship winner appeared to have found top gear and when he put his approach on the 15th to six feet for a fourth birdie in five holes, his lead was two.
A poor tee shot on the 17th from McIlroy went into the water but he holed a brilliant lengthy putt to keep the damage to a single shot and a par up the last was enough for victory.
Grace had seven birdies and two bogeys in his 67 while Molinari made the 46th hole in one of the season from 170 yards on the sixth on his way to a 68.
Fitzpatrick joined countryman Willett in carding a 70 while An and Grillo both signed for 71s and Schwartzel recorded a 69.
Søren Kjeldsen was at 12 under as he secured a Top 15 finish in The Race to Dubai with two-time Major Championship winner Martin Kaymer and American Patrick Reed – who has not finished outside the Top 30 in any European Tour event this season – also nine shots behind McIlroy.
Justin Rose finished fourth in The Race to Dubai with Shane Lowry and Louis Oosthuizen then ahead of An and Sullivan.
Bernd Wiseberger and Thongchai Jaidee then rounded out the top ten with Turkish Airlines Open champion Victor Dubuisson 11th ahead of Fitzpatrick, Kiradech Aphibarnrat, BMW Masters champion Kristoffer Broberg and Kjeldsen.