Li living dream after Dubai win

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Li Haotong of China poses with the winner's trophy while celebrating his victory in the the Dubai Desert Classic.

Li Haotong is poised for a rocket ride up the world golf rankings.

"Last night, my phone was exploding. Seriously. And there were so many messages saying 'Oh, Haotong', on the website or whatever," the 22-year-old from Hunan province said after holding off four-time major winner Rory McIlroy to win the Omega Dubai Desert Classic by a single stroke on Sunday, denying the Northern Irishman's bid to win his first title in 17 months.

Li claimed his first European Tour title at the China Open in 2016 and then stunned the golf world with an impressive third-place finish at last year's British Open.

"This is truly an amazing and brilliant victory, and congratulations to Li," fellow Chinese pro Wu Ashun posted on Weibo.

Li notched a tournament record 23-under 265 after a 3-under 69 in the final round to edge McIlroy, who also shot a 69 on Sunday.

A 10-foot birdie putt on the 15th set the stage for Li's victory, but McIlroy ramped up the pressure by taking just two shots to reach the green on the par-5 18th.

The first Asian to win the event, Li pocketed about $500,000 for the biggest victory of his young career. His second championship on the European Tour is likely to push him to No 32 in the world rankings - the first male golfer from China to break into the world's top 50.

"I don't have many trophies at home, so I was quite happy to lift that heavy thing!" Li said. "I just didn't realize I could make that putt on 15 - that was huge. I think that was the turning point.

"On the last four holes I made some of the best shots of my life. I think my game is in a good position now."

Li turned professional in 2011 on the OneAsia Tour and PGA Tour of Australasia. On May 1, 2016, he captured his first European Tour victory at the Volvo China Open.

In 2017, Li mainly played on the European Tour, and also had some breakthroughs at the majors. A low point came last June when he threw his putter in a lake in frustration at the French Open, only for it to be fished out by his mother.

None of that mattered in Dubai, where McIlory was frustrated by what he called "mental errors".

"It was a couple of bad shots, a couple of poor decisions, a couple of mental errors, a few tentative putts," said McIlory.

"I kept leaving myself in places where I couldn't really give the ball a run at the hole because the shots were downhill, downgrain, downwind.

"If someone had told me at the start of the year I would finish third and second in my first two events, I would have said, 'Yeah, I'll take that.' But being in the positions I've been in and having two close calls it's a little difficult.

"The competitor in me is very disappointed right now."

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