After starting the final round a shot behind Andy Sullivan, McIlroy carded eight birdies in the first 15 holes to surge into a two-shot lead with two holes to play, only to then find the water with an “horrendous” tee shot on the par-three 17th.
However, the four-time major winner holed from 30 feet to salvage a bogey and take a one-shot lead up the 18th, which proved just enough to secure his fourth win of an injury-hit year after Sullivan’s birdie attempt narrowly missed.
“It’s definitely the longest putt I’ve ever made for a bogey,” said McIlroy after a closing 66 saw him finish 21 under par at Jumeirah Golf Estates, one shot ahead of Sullivan with South African Branden Grace third on 15 under. “I don’t think there’s been one that’s ever come at a better time, so definitely the best bogey of my career.
“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 and I was able to just hang on.
“I’ve played really good golf this week, 13 under par at the weekend. I couldn’t think of a better way to finish the season so I’m really happy going into the Christmas break and looking forward to what’s in store for 2016.”
McIlroy missed three tournaments this summer, including the defence of his Open title at St Andrews, due to an ankle injury suffered playing football with friends and needed a controversial exemption to compete in the European Tour’s season finale after not playing enough events.
Nearest rival Danny Willett felt that gave McIlroy an unfair advantage but was unable to dislodge the four-time major winner from top spot in the money list. It was a position McIlroy held since finishing fourth in the Masters before winning the WGC-Cadillac Match Play three weeks later.
Willett had to settle for a six-way tie for fourth on 13 under which included Italy’s Francesco Molinari, who recorded a hole-in-one on the sixth in a final round of 68. “I guess if someone had said you’re going to finish fourth and see where that gets you, you might have taken it,” said Willett.
“Unfortunately we are going to come up shy by one on the Race to Dubai but hopefully next year we’re in a similar position and can try and change the story.”
McIlroy walked away with a total of £2.1 million thanks to the winner’s cheque and his share of the £4m bonus pool, and although the 26-year-old remains third in the world rankings, he has closed to within 0.48 points of No 1 Jordan Spieth after ticking off just one of the golf-related goals he wrote on the back of a boarding pass in January.
“Obviously I wanted to win majors, I wanted to improve in certain areas of my game and didn’t quite do that, but these things happen,” McIlroy added. “You have to set yourself these lofty goals to try and get better.”