The Northern Irishman produced a magnificent six under par 66 to come out on top at the end of a captivating final round, overhauling overnight leader Sullivan and withstanding the pressure of Danny Willett, the only player who could prevent him winning The Race to Dubai.
McIlroy and Sullivan traded four birdies and a bogey apiece on the front nine, before McIlroy moved up a gear on the back nine as his rival began to run out of steam. He left the door ajar when he hit his tee shot in the water on the par three 17th, but made arguably the best bogey of his life, holing a putt from 35 feet to retain the lead before sealing victory with a par at the last.
The 26 year old came into the week with a 1,614-point lead over Willett in the Race to Dubai and needed to match whatever his rival did, but sealed his position emphatically in a repeat of 2012, the year he first won the season-long money list.
Willett put up a valiant fight, taking a share of fourth place with a two under par 70 in the final round, but could not stop the McIlroy juggernaut as the World Number Three returned to his magnificent best.
“I’m happy that this was my last event of the year and I’ve done really well and I’ve ended the season on a high," said McIlroy. “I’m happy to put the clubs away for a while. I’ve played really good golf this week, 13 under par weekend, I couldn’t think of a better way to finish the season.
"I feel like my game and my putting has been gradually progressing throughout these last few weeks. It was nice to hole some putts over the weekend. I knew today wasn’t going to be easy.
"Andy was playing phenomenal golf over the first three days and from what little I saw on TV, it didn’t look like he was missing many putts. Then the birdie on 12 was huge to tie the lead, and then the two birdies on 14 and 15, when he didn’t make them, that gave me a nice little cushion going into the last three holes.
“Thankfully I rolled that putt in on 17. I guess if I had been tied playing the last, I would have backed myself with my length, but giving myself that one-shot cushion made a huge difference.”
While no doubt disappointed to have missed out on the victory Sullivan was aware of what he had achieved and what he had been part of.
“It doesn't really get any better than that. It was an awesome day. I gave it everything on the front nine, but just couldn't quite get the putts to drop on the back nine.“I didn’t really hit it close enough. To go head to head with someone of Rory’s quality was absolutely awesome and something that will stick with me for a long time. Every time he holed a putt, I holed one straight after. It was awesome fun to be in. I don’t know what it was like to watch but it was incredible to be a part of that.
“On 17 I thought ‘I’m back in this, I’ve got a chance again’. But I gave him a great read on my putt. I turned to Mac and said ‘I expect him to hole this’. That's just the quality, world-class performer he is. I can take so much from this week, the way I’ve played and the way I’ve handled it, and in a world-class field – it’s the first time that I’ve really performed in such a big field.”
Australian hopes rested with Marcus Fraser and Scott Hend, Fraser finishing in 34th position and Hend 56th. While it may not have been the finish they were hoping for just to have made the field was an achievement in itself.
The European Tour begins its 2016 season in South Africa this week with the staging of the Alfred Dunhill Championship.
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