DP World Tour Championship: Rory McIlroy's best shot seals No1 spot
Andy Sullivan began the day with a one-shot lead, extended that to three on the outward nine, signed for a four-under par 68 yet still found himself second best at the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai.
This was the week Rory McIlroy reasserted his credentials as the deepest talent in golf, a player so gifted that when all the gears are engaged few can live with him.
Four birdies in five holes on the back nine filleted the challenge of Sullivan, taking McIlroy two clear with two to play. And though he hung out an olive branch with a shot from nowhere into the water at the innocuous 17th, that freak intervention, arguably McIlroy's worst shot since Augusta in 2011, served only to sharpen the blade.
The 26-year-old from Holywood nonchalantly rolled in the putt from 40 feet to record one of the great bogeys of the year.
Then up the final hole he went to complete a fourth victory of the season with a 66, his 21-under-par total securing a third Race to Dubai title making him Europe's No1 for the third time in four years.
Only Colin Montgomerie (eight), Seve Ballesteros (six) and Peter Oosterhuis (four) have won the Order of Merit more times.
"This is what I wanted to do at the end of the season. My goal was to win the Race to Dubai and a tournament before the end of the year. It caps the year off nicely. It has been a struggle at times so to finish like this is fantastic," McIlroy said. "I'm really excited about next season. I feel my game is back to the level where I want it to be. I think everybody has seen that this week, and hopefully I can go on next year and have a great season."
And the brain fade at 17? "It was a similar [tee] shot to the one I hit on Thursday, a bit less wind and that's why I went in the water. I saw his putt with not as much break as he thought and thankfully mine went in from 40, 50 feet or whatever it was, to give me that cushion.
"It's definitely the longest putt I've ever made for a bogey. And I don't think there's been one that's ever come at a better time, so definitely the best bogey of my career."
The result was hard on Sullivan, who for the greater part of the week had putted like a machine around the Earth Course and in any other company would have been celebrating his fourth victory of the year. He didn't lose this tournament, McIlroy won it in what was an epic day for him, for Dubai and the European Tour in its season finale.
"It is incredibly tough to play against a player like Rory. I gave everything on that front nine because I knew he would keep coming, and he did. From two behind I knew it was going to be tough," Sullivan said.
"I didn't expect him to do what he did at 17. I thought I was back in the game and would be going up the last level, but I gave him a good read with my putt. I expected him to hole it after that and he did. He's a world-class player."
That's McIlroy's work done for 2015. He now has a nine-week hiatus before teeing up again down the road in Abu Dhabi, when he will be starting the new year alongside Jordan Spieth.
Yesterday's victory narrows the gap at the top of the rankings to the world No1, who defends his Australian Open title in Sydney this week, but still leaves him in third spot behind Speith and Jason Day.
Danny Willett, McIlroy's closest contender for the Race to Dubai crown, closed in a tie for fourth place on 13 under par after a final round of 70 in which he admitted running out of gas.
"I started the day quickly like we'd hoped, but just hit a bit of a stale patch again on the last few holes," Willett said.
"I didn't finish great, but I guess if someone had told me I'd finish fourth and see where that gets me, I might have taken it. Rory's played some great golf all week. He's going to be a tough man to beat. So I hold my hands up and say I gave it my best shot."